NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- Just when you thought the U.S. housing market was getting up off the canvass, along comes a one-two punch that threatens to put homeowners down for the count.
First comes new data from the National Association of Realtors which shows pending home sales falling 5.5% in April.
The decline includes a downward revision to March numbers, leaving the pendig home sales index measure at 95.5, still 12 points better than the April 2011 pending home sales activity.
Pending home sales reflect home sales that generate contracts, but doesn’t include home sales closings.
The NAR tried to put a positive spin on the numbers.
“Home contract activity has been above year-ago levels now for 12 consecutive months. The housing recovery momentum continues,” said NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun in a statement.
“The housing market activity has clearly broken out at notably higher levels and is on track to see the best performance since 2007,” Yun added. “All of the major housing market indicators are expected to trend gradually up, but a new federal budget must be passed before the end of the year for the economy to continue to move forward.”
The NAR estimates that total 2012 U.S. home sales should hit 4.66 million, compared to 4.26 million in 2011. Its “upper limit” for 2013 is 5.3 million, but only if lending returns to normal, stable levels -- no sure thing in this uncertain economy.
Another disturbing number for the housing market comes from the most recent Case-Shiller Home Prices Index. Case-Shiller data shows that the average U.S. home value fell by 2% in the first quarter of 2012. Urban areas were hit hard, with the index’s 10 City Composite down by 2.8%, and the 20 City Composite down by 2.6%.
Case-Shiller provides an overall picture of a housing market that in many cities continues to touch the lowest levels since 2006. Major metropolitan areas like Atlanta, Chicago, Las Vegas, and Chicago all saw home values fall for the quarter, hitting “new lows” according to the index.
Actually, the new could have been worse.
“While there has been improvement in some regions, housing prices have not turned,” David Blitzer, chairman of the index committee at S&P Indices stated in the Case-Shiller release. “This month’s report saw all three composites and five cities hit new lows. However, with last month’s report nine cities hit new lows. Further, about half as many cities, seven, experienced falling prices this month compared to 16 last time.”
For homeowners, especially those whose mortgages are underwater, the latest numbers are another blow. Unless they get help from lenders, or tough it out and wait years for the market to improve, they could see their homes slide into foreclosure.
For homebuyers, the news from both the NAR and Case-Shiller may give them pause before they buy -- even if they qualify for a mortgage. It’s a balancing act, with buyers wondering if they should wait another six months to see if prices fall any further.
A reality check is also in order. By and large, the housing market has shown gradual improvement in 2012, but the NAR and Case-Shiller data suggest it's still a market of momentum shaped by fits and starts.