At the end of May, 4.43 million "existing homes" were available for sale in the United States. That's the largest such number ever recorded. At May's existing-home-sales rate, it would take 8.9 months to burn off the excess inventory. That's the highest figure for "months of supply" since 1992, at the tail end of the last big housing downturn.
The immediate import of the numbers is unarguable. The median sales price for existing homes has declined for 10 straight months and will continue to do so. This is good news for buyers still waiting in the wings, but may not be the best tidings for the larger economy.
But what about those would-be buyers, cautiously watching the carnage from the sidelines?
Lawrence Yun, the staff economist for the National Association of Realtors who has replaced our favorite whipping boy, David Lereah, as the Man Who Must Be Quoted in all stories about the real estate market, complained that the housing market was "underperforming" given what he considered the general overall health of the economy.
"Psychological factors," he said, explained buyer reluctance to jump into the market at the present time.
How Yun and his ilk are able to cite "psychological factors" as the reason for anything is an exercise in tautological meaninglessness that continues to baffle How the World Works. If you're going to blame consumer psychology when the market is headed down, then in all fairness you should blame it when the market is going up. But back in the go-go days, we never heard anyone from the National Association of Realtors say anything along the lines of: "The real estate market overperformed this month, as home buyers, irrationally convinced that home prices would continue to appreciate beyond all rhyme or reason, stepped up their splurging on new and existing homes, rashly confident that they would be able to sell their purchases at a 25 percent markup in just one year."
Psychological factors are always in play, whether a market is going up or down. We've been giving Yun a chance to establish some street cred, but with each whine about buyer psychology, our willingness to give him the benefit of the doubt takes another hit.