Existing-home sales, one of several bellwethers the marine industry watches in order to gauge the economy, rose more than expected in March to the fastest pace in 18 months.
In a report by Business Insider on housing data that were released Wednesday, Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said the existing-home sales report shows that the "post-winter rebound is under way."
In March, existing-home sales rose 6.1 percent to an annualized rate of 5.19 million. Expectations were for sales to rise 3.1 percent to an annualized rate of 5.03 million, up from a 1.2 percent gain to a pace of 4.88 million in February.
"After a quiet start to the year, sales activity picked up greatly throughout the country in March,” Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of Realtors, said in a statement. “The combination of low interest rates and the ongoing stability in the job market is improving buyer confidence and finally releasing some of the sizable pent-up demand that accumulated in recent years."
Economists seem to agree.
”The sector is coming back from its winter doldrums, and most of the factors argue for even more improvement going forward,” Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economic Advisors said in a Wall Street Journal report on the good housing news.
There are still factors holding the market back, including rising prices (7.8 percent from a year earlier) and a limited inventory of existing homes.
More new homes are key to boosting housing supplies. Official government figures suggest that building activity has been subdued this year, although builders are upbeat.
NVR Inc., the parent of Ryan Homes and other brands, said Tuesday that its 3,926 sales orders in the first quarter marked an 18 percent increase from a year earlier. And on Wednesday, D.R. Horton Inc., the largest U.S. homebuilder by homes sold, said its 11,135 orders in the quarter were a 30 percent gain from a year earlier.
The share of first-time buyers inched up and distressed properties were a smaller part of the market, indicating a healthier mix in demand leading up to the May-July period, when sales typically surge.
Homebuilders are confident that better times are ahead, according to a report by Bloomberg. The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo sentiment gauge rose in April to a three-month high amid improved buyer traffic and a better sales outlook. Lenders are also upbeat.
“Interest rates remain low, homes are affordable, consumer and small-business confidence remains high and the labor market is approaching full employment,” said John Stumpf, chief executive at Wells Fargo & Co., the nation’s largest home lender.