Pending home sales down slightly, well ahead of last year

With the spring season heating up, more houses are expected to come onto the market for sale. 

Although a lack of available homes for sale is hampering the market, NAR projects existing-home sales to rise about 7 percent this year to approximately 5 million sales, which is near the current level of activity.

Last week, NAR reported that inventory was up 9.6 percent month-over-month in February, the biggest increase in 26 months. But inventory is down 19.2 percent year-over-year. Even after adjusting for seasonal fluctuations, inventory rose strongly in February.

Contract signings in the Northeast declined 2.5 percent in February, while pending sales in the South slipped 0.3 percent.

In the Midwest, the index rose 0.4 percent while the West saw pending sales increase slightly by 0.1 percent.

A separate report on Tuesday showed that home prices jumped 8.1 percent for the 12 months ending in January, the fastest yearly showing since June 2006, according to the Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller 20-city index. Prices rose in all 20 cities surveyed and eight of those markets reflected double-digit gains.

The national median existing-home price is forecast to rise nearly 7 percent this year, while mortgage interest rates should remain historically low, but reach 4 percent in the fourth quarter.

Overall, the housing recovery is 53 percent back to normal, up from 33 percent one year ago, putting a full recovery at the end of 2015, Trulia reported on Tuesday. 

Construction starts hit their second-highest level since July 2008, existing home sales were up slightly month-over-month, and non-distressed sales were up 25 percent year-over-year, a key marker for recovery. 

The combined delinquency-foreclosure rate hit its lowest level since October 2008.