March 05, 2015

The Dress, the WeaselPecker and Housing Data

The internet's recently been abuzz about the color of #TheDress. Is it blue and black or white and gold? That depends on how you interpret the context of the picture. Same goes with the #WeaselPecker – catching a ride, or trying to eat its ride? Human vision's a complex thing, and one’s brain adapts perceptions to the context one assumes.

And it's no different for housing data. The optimists look at an improving labor market, favorable demographics, and rising house prices and see good news for housing. The pessimists look at the global growth slowdown, recent persistent underperformance of the housing sector, the specter of rising interest rates, and rising inequality and see bad news for housing.

Housing data is even more difficult to parse because of its highly seasonal nature. Home sales peak in the spring and early summer, while markets are very quiet in the winter months. Interpretation of the most recent housing data can be very much dependent on the seasonal adjustments one makes. Because seasonal patterns can change over time, using year-over-year adjustments won’t fully solve the problem either.

To help us track the spring homebuying season we've built a simple interactive home sales tracking tool. The housing tracker allows us to compare non-seasonally adjusted home sales data by month and year-to-date to prior years' data. The tool allows you to compare Total Home Sales, Existing Home Sales and New Homes Sales and compare by year going back to 1999.

What we see is that January of 2015 came in at 318,000 total home sales, close to the number recorded each of the past few years but well above the 2008-2010 totals, and well below the number seen from 1999 through 2007.

So is this good or bad news for housing? Explore home sales in our new tracker and see for yourself. Read other posts in our Spring Homebuying series.

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