After a series of worse-than-expected data last month, the housing market appears to be back on track.
The Pending Home Sales Index posted 101.4 in March, a four percent gain from the month prior and the index's highest reading since April 2010 -- the last month of that year's federal home buyer tax credit.
A "pending home" is a home under contract to sell, but not yet closed. The Pending Home Sales Index is tracked and published by the National Association of REALTORS® monthly.
The March report marks the index's first 100-plus reading in nearly two years.
To home buyers and sellers , this is statistically significant because the Pending Home Sales Index is normalized to 100, a value corresponding to the average home contract activity in 2001, the index's first year of existence. 2001 was an historically-strong year for the housing market. Home buying options and conditions are improving for those looking to purchase a new home.
The March 2012 Pending Home Sales Index, therefore, puts current market activity on par with market activity from 2001.
You wouldn't know it from reading this week's papers, though. There have been stories about how the Case-Shiller Index put home values at new loans; and how the Existing Home Sales figures unexpectedly dropped off; and how the New Home Sales report was a laggard.
But this is why the Pending Home Sales Index can be so important.
What makes the Pending Home Sales Index different from those other data points is that the Pending Home Sales Index is a "forward-looking" housing market indicator.
Unlike most data which aims to tell us how the housing market performed at some point in the past, the Pending Home Sales Index attempts to tell us how the housing market will perform at some point in the future.
80% of homes under contract close within 2 months. Many more close within months 3-4. Therefore, on the strength of the March Pending Home Sales Index, we should expect a strong April and May nationwide
If you're shopping for homes right now, consider taking advantage while the market remains somewhat soft. Mortgage rates are low and home prices are, too. It can make for a good home-buying conditions.