Home-sale contracts declined in March as coronavirus drove buyers away

Contracts to purchase previously owned homes declined sharply in March as the coronavirus outbreak kept would-be buyers away, National Association of Realtors data showed on Wednesday.

The NAR’s pending home sales index fell to a reading of 88.2, down 20.8 percent from the prior month. February’s index was revised slightly to 111.4 from 111.5.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast pending home sales would fall 10 percent last month. Pending home sales fell in all four regions.

Pending home contracts generally are seen as a forward-looking indicator of the health of the housing market because they become sales one to two months later.

Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, said the housing market was “temporarily grappling with the coronvirus-induced shutdown.”

“As consumers become more accustomed to social distancing protocols, and with the economy slowly and safely reopening, listings and buying activity will resume, especially given the record low mortgage rates,” he said.

US home resales slid by 8.5 percent in March, the most in nearly 4 1/2 years, as extraordinary measures to control the spread of the novel coronavirus brought buyer traffic to a virtual standstill.

Compared to one year ago, pending sales were down 16.3 percent in March.

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