Pending home sales jump 7.4 percent
Rise to highest level in more than a year comes as a surprise
updated 1 hour, 4 minutes ago
WASHINGTON - Pending home sales rose 7.4 percent from July to August, an unexpected piece of positive news for the battered U.S. housing market.
The National Association of Realtors said Wednesday its seasonally adjusted index of pending sales for existing homes rose to 93.4 from an upwardly revised July reading of 87. The reading was the highest since June 2007.
Home sales are considered pending when the seller has accepted an offer, but the deal has not yet closed. Typically there is a one- to two-month lag before a sale is completed.
Wall Street economists surveyed by Thomson/IFR had predicted the index would fall to 84.9.
The index, which sunk to a record low of 83 in March, stood at 85.8 in August 2007.
Sales are picking up in places that have seen the most severe declines in housing prices — including California, Florida Nevada and Arizona, plus Rhode Island and the Washington, D.C. area, said Lawrence Yun, the trade group's chief economist. Still, Yun does not expect home prices to rebound until next year and only expects a modest gain of 2 to 3 percent in 2009.
A major unknown is how the worldwide financial crisis and economic slump will affect the housing market.
Despite numerous efforts by the Federal Reserve to encourage banks to lend more, lenders have kept tight reins on mortgage lending, and average rates on 30-year mortgages have remained over 6 percent for most of the year.
The latest effort by the central bank came Wednesday, when the Fed and six other major central banks around the world slashed interest rates Wednesday in an attempt to prevent a mushrooming financial crisis from becoming a global economic meltdown.
The Fed reduced a key rate from 2 percent to 1.5 percent. In Europe, which also has been hard hit by the financial crisis, the Bank of England cut its rate by half a point to 4.5 percent and the European Central Bank sliced its rate by half a point to 3.75 percent. Also cutting rates were the central banks of China, Canada, Sweden, and Switzerland.
There's no guarantee, though, that mortgage rates will match the Fed's cut.
That's because long-term interest rates, which influence 30-year mortgages, don't always move in sync with the Fed's action, which lowered the interest rate banks charge each other on overnight loans.
However, the Fed action will reduce borrowing costs almost immediately for U.S. bank customers whose home equity and other floating-rate loans are tied to the prime interest rate. Bank of America, Wells Fargo and other banks cut their prime rate by half a point to 4.5 percent after the Fed announcement.