Real Estate

Pending home sales inch up 1.3% in July but prices still high

Homebuyers inched back into the market in July, but are still frustrated by higher home prices and very few choices of homes for sale.

Signed contracts to buy existing homes rose 1.3 percent to the second highest level in over a decade, according to the National Association of Realtors' Pending Home Sales Index. June's reading, however, was revised down. This indicates more closed sales one to two months from now. Pending sales are just 1.4 percent higher than July of 2015.

Pending sale realtor sign
Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images

"Amidst tight inventory conditions that have lingered the entire summer, contract activity last month was able to pick up at least modestly in a majority of areas," said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the Realtors. "Buyers still have few choices and little time before deciding to make an offer on a home for sale. There's little doubt there'd be more sales activity right now if there were more affordable listings on the market."

The sales gains were driven entirely by the buyers in the West. Pending sales there jumped 7.3 percent in July compared to June. In contrast, sales rose just 0.8 percent in the Northeast, fell 2.9 percent in the Midwest and edged up 0.8 percent in the South.

Homebuilders had been focused mainly on the higher end of the housing market after the recession, because that was where the bulk of the buyers were. With more demand from younger buyers today, builders are moving slowly back to the entry-level market.

"Realtors in several high-cost areas have been saying for quite a while that there is robust demand for single-family starter homes and town homes at an affordable price point for young buyers," added Yun.

Why we're not in a housing bubble

Realtors have been reporting slower traffic through listings, which they track by looking at how many times a front-door lock box has been opened. Sticker shock is arguably one reason why. Home prices continue to rise and are now just one percent below their former peak of the housing boom a decade ago, according to Black Knight FInancial Services.

The first a half of 2016 saw stronger home sales, as mortgage rates dipped near record lows, and employment improved. Mortgage applications to purchase a home, however, have weakened in the last few months, signaling slower sales in the fall.

"We're going to have about five and a half million home sales this year, and that's an increase of about two hundred thousand home sales over the previous year," said David Stevens, CEO of the Mortgage Bankers Association on CNBC's Squawkbox. "I think that's fully reflective of household formation, this sort of emerging millennial generation that is continuing to drive and will drive the next generation of housing."