Kai Ryssdal: As you know -- from listening to this broadcast, of course -- the monthly home sales report is actually more than just a home sales report. Real estate has a whole lot of industries depending on it. That's why we spend so much time trying to decipher the way the housing market is headed. For the past four, maybe five years the answer's been easy: Down.
Lately, though, there've been glimmers of hope, and some more promising news today as Marketplace's Jeff Tyler tells us.
Jeff Tyler: The number of people signing contracts to buy a home was up 8 percent last month, compared to the same time last year. That’s according to a new report by the National Association of Realtors. Chief economist Lawrence Yun says data shows consumer activity in housing is higher than it’s been in five years.
Lawrence Yun: This is implying that this is a genuine recovery. And the factors for improving home sales -- such as job creation, rents rising, the stock market being very high levels -- all these factors contribute to more people coming into the housing market.
Others interpret recent reports on housing as good, but not amazing.
Thomas Lawler: None of the numbers suggest anything like a boom.
Housing consultant Thomas Lawler expects a moderate increase in home sales this spring. But because the inventory of vacant houses has fallen so low, even a moderate increase could have big repercussions.
Lawler: If sales actually do come in decent -- they don’t have to explode upward, but just decent -- with such a low inventory, that will actually spur more building.
That would be great for the economy. More building means more construction jobs. And possibly, even more retail jobs. Today the home improvement chain, Lowe’s, reported its latest quarter was more profitable than analysts had expected. Some of that is because folks have been taking advantage of unusually warm weather to tackle household construction projects. But consumers are also spending more at hardware stores to fix up a home before or after a sale.
I’m Jeff Tyler for Marketplace.