Surging Homes Sales? Seasonal Adjustments, Please

The NYT told readers that home sales are surging in advance of the April 30th expiration of the extended first-time homebuyers tax credit. While it is reasonable to expect somewhat of a surge, there is actually very little evidence of one this far.

The Mortgage Bankers Association mortgage applications index has been running substantially below last year's depressed levels. The vast majority of homebuyers will be taking out mortgages, so if this index is depressed, it suggests that there is not yet any surge in buying. The evidence presented in the article is that home sales in several cities were considerably higher in February than January. This is not evidence of an upturn in sales. This is a normal seasonal pattern, as home sales bottom out in the winter. (It is possible that the data presented in the article is seasonally adjusted, although the piece does not indicate that it is.)

--Dean Baker

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