Pending home sales fell in September by -5.60 percent, and were 1.20 percent lower year-over-year. This is the first time in more than two years that pending home sales have fallen below year-earlier readings. September's reading was below August's reading of -1.60 percent.
The National Association of REALTORS®, which released the report, expects lower home sales for the fourth quarter of 2013 and flat sales into 2014. NAR provided good news in its forecast of 10 percent growth in existing home sales in 2013 as compared to 2012.
A spike in mortgage rates in August coupled with rapidly rising home prices were seen as major factors leading to lower pending sales.
Real estate analysis firm CoreLogic has reported that August home prices were 12.4 percent higher than for the previous 12 months; this was the fastest annual growth rate for home prices since February 2006.
While positive news for homeowners and housing markets, rapidly rising home prices can cause some buyers to postpone or cancel their plans for purchasing a home.
Economic, Government Policy Challenges Reduce Buyer Enthusiasm
In addition to higher mortgage rates and home prices, recent concerns of investors and consumers about the government shutdown and its consequences were noted as factors contributing to lower pending home sales.
High unemployment rates are a lingering influence, as would-be home buyers waver in their decisions to take on a long-term obligation when unemployment rates remain higher than normal and job security is questionable.
Fed Expected To Maintain Bond-Buying At Current Level
The Federal Open Market Committee of the Federal Reserve meets this week and is expected to maintain its current level of $85 billion per month in Treasury securities and mortgage-backed securities. The fed's program is intended to keep long-term interest rates, including mortgage rates, low as a means of supporting the economic recovery.
Mortgage rates are affected by bond prices; if the fed reduces its monthly bond purchases, demand for bonds would fall, and mortgage rates would be expected to rise.
Mortgage rates spiked in August on expectations that the FOMC would taper its monthly bond-buying, but have since trended lower.