Two important pieces of real estate data were released this week, and both reinforced notions of a brewing housing market crash. Indeed, the S&P Global’s Case-Shiller Home Price Index and the National Association of Realtors (NAR) Pending Home Sales Index both came out this week, leaving economists scratching their heads over the future of the U.S. housing market.
What the Case-Shiller Shows
According to the Case-Shiller report, home price growth continues to slow in major cities nationwide. The Case-Shiller Home Price Index measures monthly changes in median home prices nationally and through 20 metropolitan areas across the country. As such, it’s an essential barometer of the state of real estate in the U.S.
This week’s report for January, released Tuesday, showed a continued trend of cooling home demand. Prices in the national index fell 0.2% from December, reflecting a 3.8% increase from the year prior — the smallest gain since December 2019.
The 20-city index also showed a drop in home prices, falling 0.4% from December to January. This represents a 2.5% year-over-year increase. On both counts, the data was actually stronger than projected. Economists predicted a 0.5% monthly decline on a 2.4% annual increase.
Housing has been in something of a pinch since mortgage rates increased, a function of the Federal Reserve’s interest rate hikes. Indeed, from 3% in December 2021, 30-year fixed rates are currently hovering close to 7%, a level last seen during the 2008 housing crisis.
“The Federal Reserve remains focused on its inflation-reduction targets, which suggest that rates may remain elevated in the near-term,” said Dow Jones Indices Managing Director Craig Lazzara. “Mortgage financing and the prospect of economic weakness are therefore likely to remain a headwind for housing prices for at least the next several months.”
Pending Home Sales Are Up. Will There Be a Housing Market Crash?
Despite the pessimistic results of the Case-Shiller report, NAR’s pending home sales data, released Wednesday, was actually quite promising. The Pending Home Sales Index rose 0.8% last month, reaching its highest point since August. This marks the third consecutive month of growth for pending home sales.
According to NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun, this is cause for celebration:
“After nearly a year, the housing sector’s contraction is coming to an end. Existing-home sales, pending contracts and new-home construction pending contracts have turned the corner and climbed for the past three months.”
Not alone, however, contracts, which become sales after a month or two, rose in the Northeast, Midwest, and South. Interestingly, but fell in the West. This mirrors Lazzara’s point, referencing the metropolitan areas tracked by the Case-Shiller.
“One of the most interesting aspects of January’s report is the continued weakness in home prices on the West Coast, as San Diego and Portland joined San Francisco and Seattle in negative year-over-year territory,” Lazzara said.
That said, pending home sales are still down more than 20% in February compared to last year.
Loan applications are also down, about 35% lower year-over-year, despite rising 2% last week, for the fourth straight week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA). It seems easing mortgage rates are behind the recent rise in loan applications. Reasonably so, the 30-year fixed rate mortgage fell to a six-week low of 6.45%, as per the MBA.
Where This Leaves the Housing Market
Housing remains an uncertain territory. Despite the recent rise in loan applications and stronger-than-expected city home prices, the market remains burdened by high mortgage rates.
Given the Fed’s recent rate hike, mortgages may be in for more hardship, which doesn’t bode well for real estate prices, despite the relatively limited supply of available homes in the country.
On the date of publication, Shrey Dua did not hold (either directly or indirectly) any positions in the securities mentioned in this article. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer, subject to the InvestorPlace.com Publishing Guidelines.