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Pending home sales 'fell off a cliff'

By Les Christie, staff writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The experts expected home sales to drop once the homebuyer tax credit lapsed at the end of April, but the depth of the decrease was shocking.

According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), pending home sales fell a whopping 30% in May. Their index, which measures signed sales contracts but not closed sales, plunged to 77.6 from 110.9 in April. It's even off 15.9% from a year ago when the nation was barely emerging from the recession.

"The pending home sales report is a disaster," said Mike Larson, a real estate analyst for Weiss Research. "Sales fell off a cliff after the tax credit expired. It's the biggest monthly decline ever and the index is at its lowest level since NAR began tracking it in 2001."

Lawrence Yun, NAR's chief economist downplayed the damage a bit. According to him, customers rushed into deals to claim the credit, borrowing from May sales. Once the economic recovery comes into full swing, housing markets will heat up.

"If jobs come back as expected, the pace of home sales should pick up later this year," said Yun, "and reach a sustainable level of activity given very favorable affordability conditions."

Those conditions include much lower home prices and extremely favorable mortgage interest rates. The question is when -- or if -- the job market will ever bounce back.

"We're not creating jobs," said Larson. "The housing problems now are being driven by broad economic problems." To top of page

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