Pending Sales of U.S. Homes Rose More Than Forecast in February

(Bloomberg) — More Americans than forecast signed contracts to purchase previously owned homes in February, indicating a pickup in the housing market ahead of the spring selling season.

The index of pending sales increased 3.1 percent to 106.9, the highest since June 2013, after a 1.2 percent gain the prior month that was smaller than initially estimated, figures from the National Association of Realtors showed Monday in Washington. The median forecast of 35 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a 0.3 percent rise.

Employment gains and rising rents encouraged buyers to take advantage of cheap borrowing costs in February even as some contended with frigid weather. Stronger wage growth and an increase in the number of homes for sale would help provide an additional boost for the market this spring, when buying interest typically heats up.

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“Pending sales showed solid gains last month, driven by a steadily improving labor market, mortgage rates hovering around 4 percent and the likelihood of more renters looking to hedge against increasing rents,” Lawrence Yun, the NAR’s chief economist, said in a statement. “These factors bode well for the prospect of an uptick in sales in coming months.”

Estimates in the Bloomberg survey ranged from a 5 percent decline to a 2 percent increase. The Realtors’ group revised the January data from a previously reported 1.7 percent increase.

Two of four regions saw an increase, reflecting an 11.6 percent jump in the Midwest and a 6.6 percent gain in the West, the report showed. Pending sales fell 2.3 percent in the Northeast and 1.4 percent in South.

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Last Year

The index increased 12 percent on an unadjusted basis versus a year earlier, after a 6.1 percent gain in the prior 12-month period. It was projected to climb 8.7 percent, according to the Bloomberg survey median.

A reading of 100 in the pending sales index corresponds to the average level of contract activity in 2001, or “historically healthy” home-buying traffic, according to the NAR.

Economists consider pending sales a leading indicator because it tracks contract signings, as opposed to purchases of existing homes, which are tabulated when a deal closes, typically a month or two later.

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The latter makes up more than 90 percent of the housing market. Re-sales rose 1.2 percent in February to a 4.88 million annual rate, the NAR said March 23.

A report from the Commerce Department on March 24 showed new-home sales, which account for about 7 percent of the residential market, unexpectedly rose in February to a seven-year high. New-home sales are also tabulated when contracts are signed, indicating the market strengthened during the month.

To contact the reporter on this story: Nina Glinski in Washington at nglinski@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Carlos Torres at ctorres2@bloomberg.net Vince Golle

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