Gap between number of homes sold by banks and number of new homes sold by builders is narrowing even as overall US home sales slow; volume of sales by banks has been falling for more than two years, finds study

May 30, 2014 () – ONE way to tell the housing market is beginning to show signs of health would be that builders of new homes are selling more houses than banks do.

We are not there yet, but the gap is narrowing, even as overall home sales slow.

According to calculations by Hanley Wood, a real estate research firm whose Metrostudy division studies deed transfers in about 95 percent of the United States, the areas it covered reported sales of about 74,000 new single-family homes in the first quarter of this year. During the same period, banks sold about twice that number of homes.

The bank sales — known in the industry as real estate owned, or R.E.O. — are of homes that were foreclosed upon or transferred to the mortgage holder without going through the formal foreclosure process.

The Hanley Wood figures show that in four of the 20 major metropolitan areas it covers — Dallas, Houston, Denver and the District of Columbia — the new-home builders are selling more houses than the banks are. As can be seen in the accompanying charts, the volume of new-home sales turned up in 2011 and has been rising gradually since then, although it remains far below the boom levels that existed before the financial crisis. The volume of sales by banks has been declining for more than two years.

Nationally, about 8 percent of home sales in the first quarter were made by builders and 17 percent by banks.

Over all, home sales have slowed in recent months, raising some worries that the rebound in housing might be fading away. But Jonathan Smoke, the chief economist at Hanley Wood, said much of that decline was caused by reductions in both foreclosure volume and in sales of homes that banks acquired through foreclosure.

“The total volumes are not nearly as important as the composition of what is being sold and who is buying,” Mr. Smoke said. “You can fret all you want about the total volumes being up or down, but the reality is that the residential real estate market is getting healthier and healthier each month. The health is reflected in the share of nondistressed, normal transactions continuing to rise.”

In addition, he said, in many areas more homes are being bought by people who intend to live in them rather than by investors who plan to rent them out.

The figures are based on recorded deeds and thus reflect sales that may have been negotiated in previous months. They do not include transactions in which foreclosures were completed and ownership transferred to banks, but do include the subsequent sale by the bank.

The R.E.O. sales have remained strong in some areas, notably in parts of Florida and in the Detroit area. In the first quarter of this year, banks sold more homes than did home builders and existing homeowners combined in the Detroit area, although that figure was influenced by an unusually large volume of homes sold by banks in January.

The home sales figures reflected in the accompanying charts differ from the sales figures that are most often reported. The Census Bureau estimates new-home sales based on a survey of home builders, and counts them in the month the contract is signed, which could be several months before the sale closes and the deed is transferred. The National Association of Realtors estimates sales of existing homes based on transactions reported by multiple listing services.
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