Pending Homes Sales: Outlook Brightest in Nearly 2 Years

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...


WASHINGTON -- The number of Americans who signed contracts to buy homes rose in January to the highest level in nearly two years, supporting the view that the housing market is gradually coming back.

The National Association of Realtors said Monday that its index of sales agreements rose 2 percent last month to a reading of 97. That's the highest reading since April 2010, the last month that buyers could qualify for a federal home-buying tax credit and the last time the reading was above 100.

A reading of 100 is considered healthy.

The Realtors' group also released revised data for 2011. That lowered November's initial 19-month high of 100.1 to 96.9. But contracts have been markedly up since the summer when some feared a second recession loomed.

Find Local Homes for Sale
Browse through photos of millions of home listings on AOL Real Estate
Contract signings typically indicate where the housing market is headed. There's a one- to two-month lag between a signed contract and a completed deal.

A sale isn't final until a mortgage is closed. One-third of Realtors complain that they've had at least one contract scuttled in January, December, November and October, according to the Realtors' group. That's up from 18 percent of Realtors in September.

Nonetheless, the gain in signed contracts supports other evidence of improvement in the housing market.

Pierre Ellis, an economist at Decision Economics, said home sales and building is in the midst of "ongoing general, but gentle, progress."

30 PHOTOS
Most Popular Housing Markets
See Gallery
Pending Homes Sales: Outlook Brightest in Nearly 2 Years

Median List Price: $186,000
Total Listings: 53,009
Median Age of Inventory: 138 days

Home Price: $4.995 million
Beds/Baths: 6/6
Sq. Ft.: 12,000

Users of Realtor.com searched for homes in Chicago more than any other city in January. With a little over 53,000 homes for sale, the city has ample supply for house hunters. 

Behind this luxury home's brick and limestone exterior, is a whopping 12,000 feet of space. The listing description claims the house offers just the right balance of public and private spaces. 

See the listing for more details

Arched doorways and exposed beams infuse the wide halls with an old-world feel. Other details include maple floors, leaded windows and period lighting.  

See the listing for more details

The first floor features an expansive recreation room and private gym. Upstairs is the home's "master bath," which comes with a vanity, makeup desk, whirlpool tub and vintage shower.

See the listing for more details

Median List Price: $81,700
Total Listings: 22,370
Median Age of Inventory: 70 days

Home Price: $290,000
Beds/Baths: 3/3
Sq. Ft.: 2,800

Speaking volumes to the affordability of Detroit housing, not one of Realtor.com's Detroit listings is priced above $1 million. 

This $290,000 home is high-end as far as the city's market goes. The apartment, which features waterfront views, dates back to Detroit's heyday when the American automobile industry was firing on all cylinders. 

See the listing for more details

The expansive living room offers a glimmer of its roots, with its hardwood floors and fireplace. Price per square foot of the dwelling is just $104. 

See the listing for more details

Pictured here is the home's elegant dining room. There are virtually no other city markets that'll deliver an apartment interior like this one for such a low price. 

See the listing for more details

Median List Price: $320,444
Total Listings: 26,858
Median Age of Inventory: 83 days

Home Price: $10.95 million
Beds/Baths: 6/9
Sq. Ft.: 13,699

Los Angeles' median home price may tower over the national median (which is below $200,000); but in coming in at No. 3 on our list, that apparently hasn't stopped prospective buyers from scouring the city's listings. 

This spanking-new, palatial mansion features floor-to-ceiling windows that display the home's jaw-dropping panoramas for all they're worth. 

See the listing for more details

The home's inviting infinity pool perches over the urban sprawl.  

See the listing for more details

In addition to otherworldly views, the $10.995 million home features a stark, contemporary interior.

See the listing for more details

Median List Price: $221,995
Total Listings: 21,693
Median Age of Inventory: 124 days

Home Price: $4,898,100
Beds/Baths: 4/2
Sq. Ft.: N/A

Philadelphia's median home price hovers above the national median by a considerable margin. The city has one of the highest average inventory ages on our list. That may induce more sellers to cut their prices. 

This apartment building offers some stunning flats that cost nearly $5 million a piece. 

See the listing for more details

The expansive interior has a sleek layout along with details that add a dash of swank. 

See the listing for more details

Philly's skyline waits outside floor-to-ceiling windows. The upscale apartment has access to an in-house gym and pool.

See the listing for more details

Median List Price: $169,500
Total Listings: 17,699
Median Age of Inventory: 69 days

Home Price: $2.75 million
Beds/Baths: 6/8
Sq. Ft.: 6,917

Phoenix-Mesa, bringing cheaper than average homes to the home-buying table, is fifth on our list. Perhaps luring flocks of bargain hunters, the area's homes are selling significantly faster than in most cities. 

This contemporary has a well-landscaped courtyard and guesthouse. The listing description plays up the home's privacy, which makes the home "feel miles away." 

See the listing for more details

The home's crowning feature is probably the pool pictured here, which sits between the guesthouse and main house. 

See the listing for more details

The stucco home also offers an artist's studio and three-stall barn, along with a pastoral field for horse-riding. 

See the listing for more details

Median List Price: $150,000
Total Listings: 48,705
Median Age of Inventory: 91 days

Home Price: $6.75 million
Beds/Baths: 8/12
Sq. Ft.: N/A

Atlanta has also drawn the interest of many prospective buyers, and its affordable median home price -- $150,000 -- may explain why. 

This rustic waterfront mansion represents the pinnacle of luxury in Atlanta real estate. 

See the listing for more details

The finely-finished home offers a giant kitchen whose kitchen island, with its eight stools, is so expansive that it seems more of a bar, than actual cooking space. 

See the listing for more details

Pictured here is the home's lavish great room. Its arched windows bathe the space in light. With eight bedrooms, the home seems tailor-made for clan getaways. 

See the listing for more details

Median List Price: $142,000
Total Listings: 18,827
Median Age of Inventory: 110 days

Home Price: $3,999,999
Beds/Baths: 6/8
Sq. Ft.: 6,763

Florida is one of the states hit hardest by the the housing bust with rampant foreclosures driving down home prices all around the state. So it's no surprise that buyers have the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater area in their crosshairs. 

This magnificent waterfront manse sits on some prime Tampa real estate. Price per square foot? $591. While that may strike you as exorbitant, keep in mind, pre-meltdown, this place's value surely dwarfed its current price tag. 

See the listing for more details.  

The home is decked out in luxurious upholstery. There are six bedrooms and six bathrooms. 

See the listing for more details

The house offers no shortage of windows, keeping the home's lush, tropical setting within reach. 

See the listing for more details

Median List Price: $189,900
Total Listings: 16,291
Median Age of Inventory: 94 days

Home Price: $6.495 million
Beds/Baths: 3/5
Sq. Ft.: 5,025

Dallas' median home price hovers around the national median, rendering it a fairly affordable city to your average American. 

This home, however, is not affordable to your average American -- but, hey, it's fun to look at. The contemporary sits on a one-acre lot that stares out at the Dallas skyline. Recently, the home's price was slashed to $6.49 million. 

See the listing for more details

The home features an expansive living area with soaring ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows perfect for sucking in the stunning city sprawl. 

See the listing for more details

There's also a fully equipped kitchen that offers your fair share of marble countertops. The home is handicap-outfitted.

See the listing for more details

Median List Price: $155,000
Total Listings: 10,857
Median Age of Inventory: 81 days

Home Price: $3.99 million
Beds/Baths: 5/8
Sq. Ft.: 8,676

Another city still reeling from the housing bust, Orlando is attracting many bargain hunters eager to capitalize on low home prices. 

This mansion, constructed in 2009, recently had it's price cut to $3.99 million. It sprawls 8,676 feet, and has an exterior built largely of stone. 

See the listing for more details

The interior feels almost regal with its cherry-stained wood paneling, columns and crown molding. The chandeliers don't hurt either. 

See the listing for more details

Other highlights beyond its exquisite decor include the home's game room, hot tub and golf course views. 

See the listing for more details

Median List Price: $121,000
Total Listings: 21,665
Median Age of Inventory: 105 days

Home Price: $8 million
Beds/Baths: 6/8
Sq. Ft.: 13,489

Las Vegas took one of the biggest shellackings from the bursting of the real estate bubble, with its median home price plunging by more than 60 percent. It would seem that buyers are keen on taking advantage of the rock-bottom prices. 

This massive luxury home almost certainly used to be worth well over $10 million. Now the 13,489-square-foot behemoth is running for $8 million. 

See the listing for more details

Interior details include arched doorways, columns and coffered ceilings. 

See the listing for more details

of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION

Builders are growing more optimistic after seeing more people express interest in buying this year. Sales of previously occupied homes are at their highest level since May 2010. More first-time buyers are making purchases. And the supply of homes fell last month to its lowest point in nearly seven years, which could push home prices higher.

Homes are the most affordable they've been in decades. And mortgage rates have never been cheaper.

Much of the optimism has come because hiring has picked up. More jobs are critical to a housing rebound.

"Easier mortgage lending criteria, very low rates and the improving labor market are all contributing to the beginnings of a real upturn in home sales, if not yet prices," said Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics.

Sales may also be rising because of an April deadline for higher mortgage application fees for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac-backed home loans. The government-controlled mortgage buyers own or guarantee about half of all U.S. mortgages and 90 percent of new loans, and have been telling customers to submit their applications now.

Analysts caution that the damage from the housing bust is deep and the industry is years away from fully recovering.

Potential buyers are holding off for a number of reasons. High unemployment and weak job growth have deterred many potential buyers. Loans are harder to come by. Lenders are requiring bigger down payments and strong credit scores to qualify.

Even those with good credit and stable finances are hesitant to buy out of concern home prices will keep falling.

Also see:
New Home Sales Dip, But Beat Expectations
30-Year Mortgage Rate Up, But Still Under 4%


US Stocks Pare Weakness and Pending Home Sales Data Improves
Read Full Story

Find a Home

Buy
Rent
Value
Powered by Zillow

People are Reading