Prices for pending home sales reach record high

Frankly, however, the biggest surprise at the moment might be that sales volumes have held up pretty well over the past few weeks even as mortgage rates have climbed into the mid-7s. We’ve been talking about sales growth over the past year. More home sales are happening, but we can also see — once adjusted for seasonal patterns — that sales should be much higher now if a real market recovery were underway. 

It feels like the latest macro trends will keep mortgage rates in the mid-7% range for the near term. And we’d expect that to slow home sales further. That’s why Altos Research tracks every home for sale in the country each week. The data so often defies expectations or changes very quickly. Let’s dig further into the details of the U.S. housing market for the week of April 22. 

Housing inventory

When we look at the active inventory of unsold homes on the market, we can definitely see the impact of higher mortgage rates in the past month. There are 543,000 single-family homes on the market now. That’s a 3% jump from last week and 31% above year-ago levels.

The available inventory of unsold homes on the market is building quickly due to the most recent mortgage rate jumps. There are 130,000 more homes on the market now than last year at this time. 

Normally, inventory is climbing at this point in the second quarter. We’re rapidly approaching the peak of the market in terms of seller listings, and as inventory builds, the sales rate will peak by the end of June. So, it’s normal that inventory is growing now.

But when you add a spike in mortgage rates that makes homebuying less affordable, that leads to fewer buyers and inventory grows. Altos data currently shows an inflection point in April. With the most recent mortgage rate jump, inventory growth has also accelerated.

This is what is meant when we say that higher rates leads to higher inventory. We are on the path back to the formerly normal levels of unsold homes on the market. A couple more years with elevated rates will get us there. 

But it’s also noteworthy to point out that falling rates reverse this trend. Lower rates mean that people snap up the existing inventory.

New listings

Growing inventory is not just about slowing demand. We are also consistently measuring more sellers coming back into the market. At 69,000 new listings unsold today, that’s 3% more than a week ago and 14% more than this time last year.

In fact, there are more new sellers this week than in any week of 2023. This selling season still has two more months of growth potential. Industry professionals would love to see 70,000 or 80,000 new listings per week in May. More sellers means more sales can happen. There’s a limit, of course, as we could eventually reach an imbalance if too many sellers flood the market and too few buyers follow suit. But we’re not close to that yet.

In the years before the COVID-19 pandemic, the latter half of April would normally see 80,000 to 100,000 new listings in a week. Now we’re at 69,000. Obviously, elevated mortgage rates slows both buyer and seller activity. There are a lot of people who will never sell their house with a 3% mortgage.

There’s unlikely to be a flood of sellers in the next few years, but we can see steady growth. Each year with higher rates will create more inventory growth and have fewer people locked into low rates. That growth is good for the market. 

The available inventory of homes to buy and the new ones being listed for sale each week are what consumers care about. If I’m buying a house, do I have any houses to buy? For homebuyers, the selection they have now is the most they’ve had in years. 

Real estate professionals, on the other hand, have to care about transaction volume. How many home sales are happening? Because there were so few sellers last year, the number of sales was quite constricted. That’s starting to change. The 14% increase in new listings over the past year is a really good sign that sales can grow.

Pending sales

When we look at the sales rate, we can indeed see that home sales are growing. There were 71,000 new contracts started for single-family homes this week. That’s 3% more than last week and 7% more than a year ago.

There are still 8% fewer sales happening each week than in 2022. At that time two years ago, there were frantic last-minute deals getting done as mortgage rates were rising quickly. So, even though rates were up back then, sales were still strong.

But the hectic pandemic-era pace of sales had slowed, so inventory was building quickly. In 2022, the new sales rates really cratered after the Fourth of July holiday.

There are now 385,000 single-family homes under contract. That’s 5% growth compared to this time last year but is still 14% less than two years ago. New sales started this week saw 7% growth while the total number of homes under contract saw 5% growth.

It takes 30 to 40 days for the typical sale to close. The homes under contract now will mostly close in April and May.  The 5% annualized growth rate is less than we’d hoped for at the start of the year, but it’s creeping up even with higher mortgage rates.

Altos Research uses direct measurement rather than seasonally adjusting its numbers. There are 385,000 single-family homes in escrow to complete a sale as of today. If you were to approximate a seasonal adjustment on this number, you would see a yearly sales pace of about 4.4 million units for April 2024. That pace is up from April 2023, but it is still running slower than the typical April. The seasonal pace is where one can observe the slowdown due higher mortgage rates.

The takeaway from the weekly new pending sales data is that even though sales continue to outpace last year, that growth has definitely slowed.

Home prices

The median price of single-family homes under contract is now $398,000. That jumped by 2.4% jump this week and is, in fact, a new all-time-high, surpassing the sale prices of two years ago.

These spring weeks are indeed the time when home prices climb, so it’s not too surprising that this trend is occurring now. But we’ve also been keeping a close eye on home prices in the face of these rising mortgage rates. 

The prices of the homes going under contract are 6% more expensive than one year ago. Last year at this time, home prices were lower than in April 2022. But we’re now back at all-time highs. The previous peak was $395,000 two years ago.

One thing of interest in the price data is how slow this climb has been. Compared to Jan. 1, 2024, prices are up 6.6%. In most years, the increase is closer to 10% by this time in April. So, as a leading indicator for how the year ends up, this price signal is much softer than usual. 

We can also see this in asking prices. The median price for all homes currently on the market is $449,000. That’s up a fraction from last week and only 1% above last year at this time.

Asking prices can be thought of as a leading indicator for future sales prices. Homes that are on the market now will get offers in May, close in June and will be reported on in July. So, the future signals for home prices aren’t falling because of higher mortgage rates, but it certainly looks like price appreciation has slowed.

Price reductions

Another strong leading indicator for future home sale prices is the share of homes on the market with price reductions. If more sellers have to cut their prices now, that’s a real signal for sales that will happen in the future.

Surprisingly, given the mortgage rate changes, there is no jump yet in the share of price reductions. We’ve been watching this stat closely. 

This week, 32% of the homes on the market have taken a price cut. That’s actually down a fraction from last week, given a relatively strong set of new listings that hit the market and the fact that home sales are at their highest point of the year. Fresh inventory doesn’t take a price cut until after it sits for a while without an offer.

There are 3% more homes with price reductions today than a year ago. Last year at this time, price cuts were still decreasing with very tight volumes of new listings. There are more homes on the market now with price cuts than in any April on record. That shows weakness in prices, but it’s not a super high number and it’s not skyrocketing, so that implies we won’t see prices tanking anytime soon. 

The takeaway here is that with the 30-year fixed mortgage at 7.4%, there is still just enough sales volume to keep home prices from dropping like they did in late 2022. The current market is not changing nearly that quickly. We’ll continue to watch data on price cuts. As mortgage rates make homes less affordable, fewer offers will be made and some sellers will cut their prices. That could accelerate in the next few weeks. 

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