Real Estate Outlook:
A record jump in pending home sales -- pointing to higher numbers of closed transactions in the next two to three months -- tops the housing economic news this week.
Pending sales rose by 6.1 percent nationwide during the month of September, pushed in part by consumer concerns that the $8,000 tax credit might expire at the end of the month - and we now know that won't happen.
The pending home sale index, compiled monthly by the National Association of Realtors, was up 21 percent higher this September compared with September of 2008. That's the biggest year-over-year increase in the history of the index, dating back to 2001.
Plus the September gain in pending sales was the eighth straight month of higher numbers -- and that's also a record for the index. Pending sales were up by 10.2 percent in the Western states, 8.1 percent in the Midwest, 5 percent in the South.
Only the Northeast saw a decline, and that was by 2 percent.
Those numbers are pretty robust, but some economists caution that the index is likely to see a tapering off during the winter and holiday months, when fewer people are shopping.
David Semmens, an economist with Standard Chartered Bank in New York, said "we expect a far slower growth rate going forward."
But other economists question whether that seasonal pattern might be overridden by the short term extension, and expansion, of the tax credit through next June.
That extension not only continues the $8,000 credit for first time buyers, but allows people who've owned their homes for the past five years to qualify for a $6,500 credit if they sign a contract by April 30th 2010 and go to closing by June 30.
In other key economic developments affecting real estate this week, the Commerce Department reported that spending on construction, both residential and commercial, was up by eight tenths of a percent during September. That's a further welcome indication the recession is over.
Also, the Clear Capital "HDI" home price index rose by 3.7 percent on a national average basis between September 26th and October 28th.
Meanwhile, mortgage rates got even a little better last week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. Average 30-year fixed rates slipped just below 5 percent, while 15-year fixed rate loans dropped significantly -- and now average just 4.3 percent.
Not surprisingly, given all these positive indicators, new applications for mortgages to buy homes were up again last week -- this time by 3 percent.
The recovery looks like it's well on track.