WASHINGTON – The number of contracts Americans signed to buy previously-owned homes unexpectedly fell in October for a fifth consecutive month amid higher borrowing costs that are denting the real-estate recovery.
The gauge of pending home sales decreased 0.6 percent after a 4.6 percent drop in September, the National Association of Realtors said Monday in Washington. The median projection in a Bloomberg survey of economists called for a 1 percent gain in the index from the month before.
Higher mortgage rates and price increases driven by a tighter supply of homes for sale may be keeping some prospective buyers out of the real-estate arena. Further gains in hiring and confidence would help boost the housing-market recovery as well as the U.S. economic expansion.
“When mortgage rates went up, people got spooked and rushed into the market to seal deals,” Patrick Newport, an economist at IHS Global Insight in Lexington, Mass., said before the report. “The numbers that we’re seeing for pending home sales are payback for the stronger numbers earlier this year.”
Estimates in the Bloomberg survey of 39 economists for pending home sales ranged from a decline of 2.5 percent to an advance of 3.5 percent.
The NAR’s report showed purchases decreased 2.2 percent from the year prior on an unadjusted basis.
The pending sales index was 102.1 on a seasonally-adjusted basis, the lowest this year. A reading of 100 corresponds to the average level of contract activity in 2001, or “historically healthy” home-buying traffic, according to the NAR.
“We could rebound a bit from this level, but still face the headwinds of limited inventory and falling affordability conditions,” the group’s chief economist Lawrence Yun said in a statement. “Job creation and a slight dialing down from current stringent mortgage underwriting standards going into 2014 can help offset the headwind factors.”