WASHINGTON - The number of Americans who signed contracts to buy homes fell in December after hitting the highest level in a year and a half a month earlier.
The National Association of Realtors says its index of sales agreements fell 3.5 percent last month to a reading of 96.6. That's down from November's reading of 100.1.
But the reading is still the second highest since April 2010, the last month that buyers could qualify for a federal home-buying tax credit. After big gains in October and November, a modest correction "was always in the cards for December," said Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics.
A reading of 100 is considered healthy.
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. But in recent months, a growing number of buyers have cancelled contracts at the last minute.
But a sale isn't final until a mortgage is closed and many are falling apart before that happens. One third of Realtors say they've had at least one contract scuttled in December, November and October, according to the Realtors' group. That's up from 18 percent of Realtors in September.
Still, the increase in contract signings is another indication that the troubled housing market improved at the end of last year going into 2012.
Joshua Shapiro, chief U.S. economist at MFR Inc., said the recent trend was "heartening." But he added that further gains would be needed to reduce the millions of unsold foreclosed homes sitting idle on the market.
Homes are the most affordable they've been in decades. Long-term mortgage rates are at historic lows and prices in most metro areas have tumbled since late 2006.
Yet 2011 totals set to be released Thursday will almost certainly show that it was the worst year for new-home sales in history. Sales of previously occupied homes finished just barely ahead of 2008's dismal figures - the worst yearly showing since 1997.
Americans are holding off buying a home 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. Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. The information contained in the AP news report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press. Active hyperlinks have been inserted by AOL.
$50K+ job postings per 100 unemployed: 47 (U.S. avg.: 11)
Manchester weathered the recession with a 6% unemployment rate, and the former mill town’s strong income growth and refurbished business district still make it a promised land for job seekers. Finance and health care are traditionally strong sectors here, with average wages between $64,000 and $75,000 a year. Six percent of city residents work in management positions, pulling in $105,000, on average. Employers such as the Southern New Hampshire Medical Center and Elliot Hospital are hiring for high-paid positions in nursing, information technology and management.
The District of Columbia promises job openings in the tens of thousands – and not any old openings, either. The average annual wage in the District runs 40% above the national average, dwarfing even larger, costlier cities such as Boston and New York. Nearly 1 in 10 Washingtonians work in finance, often as government analysts, pulling in more than $83,000 a year. An additional 8% work in management jobs, where average salaries run above $125,000. Government contractors, such as General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman, are hiring.
A former industrial town turned government center, Trenton’s job, salary and technology-sector growth rank among the top 50 in the country. The overlooked capital city boasts something else, too: low competition for high-paying jobs. Bristol Myers Squibb, Princeton University and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey are all hiring in the region, with openings for business managers, financial analysts and research scientists. Trenton’s largest industries include finance, health care and computer technology, which collectively employ 20% of the city’s workforce at an average of $75,000 to $87,000 a year.
Boston is the center of New England’s finance, information-technology and health care sectors, which means that jobs in Beantown are both abundant and well-paid. In fact, the city’s most common occupations include registered nurse ($87,630 a year, on average), general manager ($125,400) and software developer ($102,950). Firms such as Genzyme and Tufts Medical Center are currently hiring in the life sciences. And if current patterns hold, Boston’s economy will continue to grow. In 2011, it outpaced other large cities on almost every recovery metric, from unemployment levels to manufacturing job growth.
Baltimore’s booming life-science, international finance and maritime commerce sectors make the port city a prime place to score a competitive job. Johns Hopkins University and its accompanying medical system are the city’s largest employers, with 1 in 10 city residents working in health care or research. Meanwhile, Baltimore’s technology and defense sectors are growing. Mosaic Techologies Group, SAIC and Northrop Grumman are hiring analysts, systems administrators and program managers at starting salaries well over $50,000.
Worcester’s life-science sector is growing fast, and the sudden crop of new labs and offices means many biotech firms are hiring. Genzyme, a global medical research company, posted openings for automation engineers, analytical scientists and manufacturing associates; the UMass Medical Center needs analysts and developers. Roughly 15% of Worcester residents work in health care, life science or information technology. The annual salaries for these jobs fall in the $75,000 to $80,000 range. Managers, who make up 6% of Worcester’s workforce, can expect to make more than $109,000 annually.
Cedar Rapids anchors the Midwestern tech, health care and finance sectors, and there are plenty of high-power firms hiring in all three. Rockwell Collins, an aircraft systems designer and the city’s largest employer, is looking for financial analysts, solutions architects and systems engineers. Aegon and the University of Iowa are also hiring en masse. Health care occupations pay an average of $62,000 a year in Cedar Rapids; computer and tech jobs pull in $65,000. One of every 20 residents works in a management position, earning roughly $95,000 a year.
Anchorage’s remoteness works in job seekers’ favor: Competition for jobs is relatively low, and companies pay top wages to lure talent north. Health care and energy are both top industries, with roughly 6% of the population working in each. CH2M, the international engineering firm, runs a large operation in the area and is currently hiring engineers, analysts and project managers. The Alaska Regional Hospital is looking for RNs. Average salaries for health care and extraction jobs are $89,240 and $60,410, respectively. Wages for all professions skew 16% above the national average.
Despite a recent brush with bankruptcy, Harrisburg continues to be a boomtown for job seekers. Health care and state government, two of the city’s largest employers, always seem to need new blood. WellSpan Health, PinnacleHealth and the Penn State Hershey Medical Center are all hiring in Pennsylvania’s capital for positions ranging from nurse and physical therapist to systems manager. Harrisburg’s health care workers make $66,600 annually, on average. Thirteen percent of the city works in government, where salaries vary but managers can easily make more than $100,000.
Oklahoma City is the place the recession forgot. Even in the darkest days of 2008, the city skimmed by with a 3.7% unemployment rate and saw considerable growth in its medical, education and energy sectors. The pattern still holds: 7% of city residents work in health care, 6% work in education, and 6% work in construction and extraction, often for large oil and gas operations, such as Devon and Chesapeake Energy. In fact, Chesapeake is currently hiring accountants, analysts, project managers and a range of other positions. Salaries average north of $60,000 per year.
Twenty-one Fortune 500 companies are headquartered in the Twin Cities, and thanks to a strong, diversified local economy, many of them are hiring. Minneapolis boasts vibrant finance, manufacturing, and professional and technical service sectors, as well as a growing export and medical technology industry. UnitedHealth, Target and Picis are all looking for business and systems analysts. General Mills and Xcel Energy are also hiring in the region. Salaries in Minneapolis’s business sector run about $65,000, while technical occupations rake in nearly $80,000 annually.
Landing a lucrative job in Springfield is easy. The city lies on a so-called “Knowledge Corridor” between Southern Massachusetts and Hartford, a region rich in tech companies, top hospitals and big universities. All three fields promise good jobs: Baystate Health is hiring nurses and speech pathologists; Travelers and Cigna Insurance are looking for research analysts and project managers. Salaries run about $70,000 a year and up.