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Originally published Friday, April 27, 2012 at 8:01 PM

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Pending home sales up in March

First-quarter closings in 2012 were the best in five years.

Los Angeles Times

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LOS ANGELES — The housing market at least seems to be heading back on track.

Pending home sales, which represent signed contracts for purchases and help forecast finalized sales, rose 4.1 percent in March to 101.4 on a monthly index from the National Association of Realtors.

That's the highest level since April 2010, when the index reached 111.3 ahead of a tax-credit deadline.

March's number, coming off a 0.4 percent gain in February to 97.4, also lends credence to reports that first-quarter closings were the best in five years.

Pending home sales for last month came in 12.8 percent higher than the 89.9 the index reached in March 2011.

Analysts from Credit Suisse said record affordability helped, as did the warm winter, even though they noted the upward trend for pending sales started in the fall.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the rate on the 30-year loan dropped to 3.88 percent this week, down from 3.9 percent. In February, the rate hit 3.87 percent, the lowest since long-term mortgages began in the 1950s.

The average on the 15-year fixed-rate mortgage dipped to 3.12 percent, down from 3.13 percent last week. The U.S. average hit an all-time low of 3.11 percent two weeks ago.

The week brought a round of encouraging housing figures.

Home prices are still falling, but the speed of the drop is slowing.

Although new-home sales in March fell 7.1 percent, the government revised the February figures sharply upward.

Cheaper mortgages have so far done little to boost home sales. Sales of both previously occupied homes and new homes fell in March.

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