The Market Minute is a one-page analysis that offers the most up-to-date information on the economy and the housing market. It provides members, on a weekly basis, key highlights and concise insights on industry-related issues. Combined with the weekly infographic, the 2-page report is downloadable, shareable, and can easily be used as part of REALTORS®’ marketing materials.
February 19, 2024 – California had a good start in 2024 with both housing supply and buyer demand showing signs of improvement in January. While the market will likely face headwinds in the coming months as mortgage rates continue to fluctuate, the lending environment is expected to be more favorable in 2024. Rates will ease again as inflation stabilizes in the second quarter and the market could see more pent-up demand being converted into sales in the spring homebuying season.
California home sales kick off the new year with a positive note: January home sales in California reached the highest level in six months, with the statewide existing single-family home sales registering a year-over-year gain for the first time in 31 months. Pending sales at the state level also increased year-over-year for the first time since May 2021, signaling the possibility of a back-to-back annual increase in closed sales in February. With rates dropping sharply at the end of last year, many homebuyers on the sidelines reentered the market and pushed sales up a notch in the first month of 2024. While the increase in January was encouraging, sales were below the 300,000-unit threshold for the 16th straight month and will likely remain under that level in the first quarter.
Median price dips from the prior month but registers another annual gain in January: The statewide median price of existing single-family homes dipped below the $800,000 benchmark for the first time in ten months but continued to record a modest year-over-year gain in January. All major regions except the Far North increased in their median price from a year ago at the start of 2024. Despite mortgage rates rising in the last few weeks, home prices should remain on their upward trend and continue to grow moderately from a year ago in the next couple of months as housing supply remains tight.
Housing supply shows signs of improvement but headwinds remain: Active listings at the state level dipped again on a year-over year basis for ten straight months, but the decline for the current month was the smallest. More importantly, new active listings at the state level increased from a year ago for the first time in 19 months and the annual increase was the largest since May 2022. Potential home sellers could hit the pause button on listing their house in the next few weeks though, as rates climbed back up to a two-month high late last week due to the latest inflation concerns. In general, rates are expected to decline later this year, and available inventory should slowly improve throughout 2024.
Housing starts plummet but builder sentiment climbs to six-month high: The U.S. Census Bureau reported a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.33 million units of housing starts in January, a decline of 14.8% from December and a decrease of 0.7% from 1.34 million in January 2023. The monthly fall was the sharpest since April 2020 and housing starts dropped to the lowest level in five months. Cold weather and higher mortgage rates were likely the reasons for the plunge in construction activity in January. Single-family starts also dropped 4.7% on a month-to-month basis but jumped 22% from 12 months ago. Meanwhile, builder sentiment posted its third straight monthly gain despite rates climbing in recent weeks. The National Association of Home Builders’ Housing Market Index increased four points to 48 in February, reaching the highest level since August 2023. With builder confidence level remaining on the rise, housing construction activity could pick up again in the short term.
Consumer inflation tops expectations again in January: Consumer prices rose from a year ago by 3.1% in January. While the number was a dip from the 3.4% gain in December, it was higher than the consensus forecast of 2.9%. The Core CPI – inflation excluding food and energy – was unchanged on an annual basis in January, with the index registering a 3.9% gain from 12 months ago, the same as what was recorded in December 2023. The index also came in higher than the 3.7% predicted by economists. Shelter costs remained stubbornly high, with its index increasing 6.0% year-over-year, and accounted for two-thirds of the monthly all items increase. With inflation remaining sticky and the January CPI data not giving the Fed any evidence that a slowdown in price pressures is broadening beyond goods, the odds of a rate cut in the March FOMC meeting are very slim.
Retail sales tumble after a strong round of holiday shopping at year-end: Consumer spending lost some momentum in January as retail sales slipped 0.8% from a month earlier, a decline larger than the 0.3% drop expected by economists surveyed by Dow Jones. Last month’s sales were up 0.6% from January 2023, but the year-over-year growth was the smallest since May 2020 when the economy got hit by the pandemic. The latest retail sales report showed weak spending across the broad, with building material and garden stores dropping the most (-4.1%) from the prior month, while both auto dealers and gas stations declined modestly at 1.7%. “Food services and drinking places” was one of the few bright spots in the report, with sales rising 0.7% month-over-month. Many shoppers had used the “buy now, pay later” financing option during the holiday season, and the current pullback in spending could be a reflection of consumers cutting back in order to pay bills that they racked up at the end of last year.