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9 Statistics Every Expert Homebuyer Should Follow

The housing market is a bit like baseball; there are an endless number of statistics that can be cited to prove or disprove a point.

On the one hand, you'd be excused for concluding that it's in horrible shape, as existing home sales dropped by 7.1% in the latest reading compared to the same month last year. On the other hand, prices for the same category of homes have climbed by double-digit percentages in 11 consecutive months.

It's with this in mind that I gathered the nine most important statistics to see what they say collectively about the health of housing in America. Put all of them together, and the takeaway is that the sector is struggling to stand on its own two feet -- that is, without the Federal Reserve's help via another round of quantitative easing.

With interest rates rising, the demand for mortgages has plummeted. The volume of purchase-money mortgage applications fell a staggering 17.9% last month on a year-over-year basis. To make things worse, the inventory of listed homes, while marginally increasing to 5.2 months' worth of sales in February, remains well below the six-month threshold that signifies a balanced market.

This is why home prices have shot through the roof over the past year. As in any other market, a house's price is a function of supply and demand -- the lower the former relative to the latter, the higher the price, and vice versa. The breakeven point, as I've already mentioned, is six months' worth of supply, which we remain well below.

Put all of these things together -- plus the continued uncertainty surrounding Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac's future, the ongoing efforts to reform other areas of the housing market, and the understandable reluctance of lenders to take risks on questionable borrowers -- and you're left with home sales that are falling across the board.

New home sales fell 1.1% in February compared to the same month last year, while existing home sales were down on a year-over-year basis in March by 7.1%. And, at least with respect to the former, there's reason to believe that things will at best improve only slowly, as the Commerce Department recently reported that housing starts were down in March as well.

The net result is a market that's teetering once again on contraction. Will this be the summer it takes another turn for the worse? That remains to be seen, but here's to hoping it's not.

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John Maxfield

John is The Motley Fool's senior banking specialist. If you're interested in banking and/or finance, you should follow him on Twitter.

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