From the WSJ
How will housing sales fare without the benefit of big tax breaks for home buyers? The early indications are that sales are down very sharply in recent weeks, worse than most brokers and analysts expected.
Of course, economists and real estate analysts expected home sales to slow after the tax credit, of as much as $8,000, expired at the end of April. But early data from real estate brokers indicate that the sales declined as much as 25% to 30 from the year-earlier levels in some markets.
Without the tax bait, “consumers just don’t have that same sense they have to move quickly,” said Patrick Lashinsky, CEO of ZipRealty Inc., a big brokerage firm.
The May slump is ominous, but it’s too early to tell whether it portends another serious downward lurch in a market that has generally been leveling off over the past year.
Despite the recent drop in mortgage rates to less than 5%, applications for home-purchase mortgages have fallen in each of the last four weeks. In late May they were down nearly 40% from a month before, reaching their lowest level in 13 years, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.
Even the Realtors are acknowledging that things look dicey. Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors, estimated that contracts signed for home resales in May were down 20% to 30% from a year earlier. He expects June and July to remain fairly weak and will be watching nervously for signs of a rebound in August or September. “Housing cannot just depend on [government] stimulus forever,” Mr. Yun said.
Home-purchase contracts signed in New Jersey last month were down 25% from a year earlier, estimates Otteau Valuation Group, an appraisal firm in East Brunswick, N.J. New Jersey’s state legislature is considering its own tax credit for home buyers.
In the Minneapolis area, the number of newly signed home-purchase contracts in the week ended May 22 was down 30% from a year earlier, according to the Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors. “Our buyers, if they haven’t purchased, have just decided to wait,” said Brad Fisher, president of the local Realtor group.
In the Phoenix area, contracts signed in May plunged 26% from a year earlier, local Realtor data show. In Denver, the drop was 27%. Northwest Multiple Listing Service, which covers 21 counties in Washington state, including the Seattle area, reported Friday that contracts signed in May also were down 27% in its region.
In another sign of weak sales, the number of homes on the market is growing again. ZipRealty said the number of homes listed for sale in 26 major metro areas across the U.S. in May was up 1.7% from April. In a typical May, the inventory doesn’t increase from April, according to Ivy Zelman, chief executive of Zelman & Associates, a research firm.
California’s state tax credit of as much as $10,000, which ends Dec. 31, has helped sustain sales there. Contracts signed in May in the Los Angeles region were up 16% from a year earlier (but down 9% from April), while San Diego was down 3% from year-ago levels. San Francisco’s East Bay was up 2%, while the Napa Valley region posted a 15% gain from one year ago (but a 14% month-over-month decline).