Housing data in January gave mixed signals on the direction for the year. Closing activity for existing home sales shot up to a decade-high of 5.69 million units at an annualized pace, but pending contracts fell to their lowest level in 12 months. For the whole of 2017, I expect existing home sales to reach 5.6 million, which would be a gain of 2.2% from the prior year, but below the annualized pace set in January. In short, expect sideway movements for the rest of the year.
Even though home sales will not make much gains, home prices will. With inventories still at grossly inadequate levels, there is only one direction to go for home prices. The national median price will likely rise by 4% to 5%. Do not be surprised if it goes up even higher. While the country needs around 1.6 million new housing starts, only around 1.3 million units will be constructed, based on permit information and from labor and lot shortages facing the industry.
For local markets, check how new home construction is coming online in relation to local job growth to gauge if home prices will outpace the national average growth rate. For example, in Savannah, Georgia, there have been only 6,000 new units built cumulatively over the past three years while 18,000 net new jobs have been added. Historically, one new housing unit is required for every two new jobs. Therefore, demand is outpacing supply there and home price outlook is solid in Savannah.
Though there are many short-term factors and dynamics at play, it is also worthwhile to gauge what is likely to happen over the long-term. Specifically, housing demand over the next decade will be notably higher than it is now. The combined factors of a rising population and jobs with the release of the pent-up demand will be the principal drivers.