Real Estate

Pending home sales rise just 0.8% in November

Home sales moved somewhat sideways in November.

Signed contracts to buy existing homes increased just 0.8 percent from a downwardly-revised October reading, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), despite favorable mortgage rates and easing home prices.

The Realtors' Pending Home Sales Index is still up 4.1 percent from a year ago, the third straight month of annual gains and the largest gain since August of 2013. These contracts are an indicator of closed sales in the next one to two months.

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"The consistent economic growth and steady hiring we've seen the second half of this year is giving buyers enough assurance to consider purchasing a home before year's end," said Lawrence Yun, NAR's chief economist in a release. "With rents now rising at a seven-year high, historically low rates and moderating price growth are likely to entice more buyers to enter the market in upcoming months."

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Regionally, pending home sales rose 1.4 percent in the Northeast month-to-month, fell 0.4 percent in the Midwest, rose 1.3 percent in the South and increased 0.4 percent in the West.

Closed sales of existing homes fell a larger-than-expected 6 percent in November from a downwardly-revised October reading, the lowest sales pace since May. Realtors blamed swings in the stock market and higher home prices for the new weakness.

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"I don't think that we saw the worst fall that we've ever seen for sure. The past month was deftly milder than the spring and summer that we did see. When comparing it to 2013 obviously everything comes off as relatively mild in this market," said Timothy Savoy, a Washington, DC area real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage.

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Even low mortgage rates didn't help. The average contract rate on the popular 30-year fixed loan hovered at 2014 lows for much of November, but mortgage applications to purchase a home did not respond, and in fact fell from October levels. The Realtors predict total home sales for 2014 will come in at 4.94 million units, a decline of 3.0 percent from 2013.