Housing Market Decoded - Paul Bischop
Illustration by Lanette Behiry/Real Estate News

Housing Market Decoded: 6 housing stats to watch 

Housing data is everywhere, and keeping up with the stream of new information can be challenging. Dr. Paul Bishop highlights a few key data points to follow.

December 29, 2022
5 minutes

Decisions in residential real estate are often based on market data — sometimes conflicting, often confusing. Housing Market Decoded, authored by economists and other market experts, helps put the data in context so you can make sense of the numbers.

If you're interested in numbers, there's no shortage of housing market data. On any given day, you may come across new statistics or find weekly or monthly reports covering nearly all aspects of the residential real estate market.

Each of these streams of data provides real estate agents and brokers with a look at the health and strength of the market and the overall economy.

But which ones are the most important to follow?

Here are six that should be at the top of your watch list. Together, they cover different elements of the market and provide easily accessible and timely data.

Existing Home Sales

The primary source for data on existing homes is NAR's Existing Home Sales release. Around the 20th of each month, NAR releases data for the month before showing the number of home sales for the U.S. and the four census regions. The release also includes data on for-sale inventory, months' supply and the median price of homes sold. Moreover, the data is released with a relatively short lag making it one of the timeliest indicators for tracking the residential sales market. Find it here.

New Home Sales

Around the third week of each month, the Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development jointly release data on the number of new single-family home sales. The release includes data for each of the four census regions, plus average and median prices and homes sold by stage of construction. Find it here.

Housing Starts

Housing starts are one of the primary measures of new construction for both single-family and multifamily homes. The Census Bureau releases this data around the third week of the month as well, showing the total number of starts by unit for the U.S. and the four census regions. Data tracking the number of building permits is also included, which foreshadows changes in new construction, the health of the overall economy and by extension, the housing market. Find it here.

Home Prices

There are several data series that track the movement of home prices. Two indicators, median existing home prices, published by NAR, and new home prices, published by the Census Bureau, are part of data releases noted above.

Two additional home price data series worth following include the Federal Housing Finance Agency House Price Index and the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Home Price Indices. What sets them apart is that both use a repeat sales methodology that tracks price changes for the same property each time it is resold. Neither provide price information directly but are published as an index, making them useful in tracking price changes over time.

The FHFA House Price Index is very comprehensive and is based on data for conventional mortgage loans for single-family properties purchased or securitized by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. There is a monthly purchase-only index covering the nine census divisions, and a quarterly release with data for more than 400 metro areas, making it particularly useful for tracking prices in mid-size and smaller metro areas not covered by home price data from other sources. Find it here.

The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Home Price Indices are released the last Tuesday of each month and include a U.S index, a 10- and 20-city composite index as well as indices for each of the 20 metropolitan areas. There is also an index for low, middle and high price tiers for each metro not found in other sources of home price data. Find it here.

Mortgage Applications

The Mortgage Bankers Association publishes the Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey which tracks the volume of mortgage applications for both refinance and purchase loans. The data, released each Wednesday, is based on a survey of mortgage bankers, commercial banks and thrift institutions covering 75% of all mortgage application activity.

Data on purchase loan applications is a leading indicator of home purchases since applying for a mortgage happens at some point before a purchase is completed. The data is available by subscription only, but the weekly news release summarizes the top-line results. Find it here.

These six reports are just a starting point for tracking the housing market. Agents and brokers can take a deeper dive into these statistics as well as data available from Zillow, Redfin, realtor.com and others to round out their overall market assessment strategy.

Dr. Paul Bishop provides expertise in economic analysis, survey design and market research at T3 Sixty (Note: Stefan Swanepoel founded both T3 Sixty and Real Estate News). Previously, he was the vice president of research at NAR where he conducted research on the economic and demographic forces influencing real estate and was a frequent speaker at industry events.

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