Some Highlights: Interest rates are projected to increase steadily throughout 2019, but buyers will still be able to lock in a rate lower than their parents or grandparents did when they bought their homes! Home prices will rise at a rate of 4.8% over the course of 2019 according to CoreLogic. All four major reporting agencies believe that home sales will outpace 2018
24 Hours that Suddenly Improved the Market
This year started strong for real estate, but then the market began to soften. Home inventory in the starter and move-up categories dwindled to almost nothing, mortgage rates were projected to rise, and home sales had decreased for several months in a row. To many, the outlook heading into 2019 appeared dim… at best. Then, … Then, in a 24-hour window last week, things seemed to change. On Wednesday, the National Association of Realtors’ (NAR) revealed in their Existing Homes Sales Report that home sales had INCREASED for the second consecutive month. The next day, NAR’s economic research team announced that the percentage of first-time buyers in the market was higher than last month and even higher than a year ago.
What happened to turn around the downward momentum in the market?
You only needed to wait a few hours to find out. On the heels of NAR’s revelations, Zillow released their November Real Estate Market Report that explained:
“After nearly four years of annual declines in inventory, the number of homes for sale has now increased year-over-year for three straight months…”
Ending 2018, we now know two things:
1. Listing inventory increased over the last three months Home sales increased over the last two months
Maybe a lack of inventory was the major challenge all along.
But, what about those pesky interest rates?
Last Thursday (the day after all of the above news), Freddie Mac announced that mortgage rates did not increase but instead decreased…again. From their release:
“The response to the recent decline in mortgage rates is already being felt in the housing market. After declining for six consecutive months, existing home sales finally rose in October and November and are essentially at the same level as during the summer months.
This modest rebound in sales indicates that homebuyers are very sensitive to mortgage rate changes – and given the further drop in rates we’ve seen this month, we expect to see a modest rebound in home sales as well.”
Will 2019 start out better than many have predicted? Perhaps, but we’ll have to wait and see. Things do look much better today, though, than they did just a month ago
Home prices are at the top of everyone’s minds. Can they maintain their current pace of appreciation? Will rising mortgage rates negatively impact home values? Will the next economic slowdown cause prices to crash?
Let’s try to answer these questions based on what has happened in the past as well as what we know about the current real estate market.
The Impact of Rising Interest Rates
We explained earlier this year that rising mortgage rates have not negatively impacted home prices in the past and probably wouldn’t this time either. Freddie Mac’s comments were very direct:
“In the current housing market, the driving force behind the increase in prices is a low supply of both new and existing homes combined with historically low rates. As mortgage rates increase, the demand for home purchases will likely remain strong relative to the constrained supply and continue to put upward pressure on home prices.”
They were correct. So far this year, home values have continued to appreciate above normal historic percentages and it appears the gradual increase in rates has had little impact on prices.
The Impact of an Economic Slowdown
Many people fear that when the economy turns, we may see the same depreciation in home values as we did a decade ago.
However, we recently reported that the same group of economists, real estate experts, and investment & market strategists who predicted the next recession will occur in the next 18-24 months have also projected that house prices will continue to appreciate for the next five years, albeit at smaller percentages.
It Comes Down to Supply and Demand
As always, home prices will be determined by the demand to purchase compared to the available inventory of homes for sale. For the last six years, demand has far exceeded the available supply which has resulted in the average annual appreciation to top 6% since 2012. That is far greater than the historic norm of 3.6% annual appreciation that we saw prior to the housing boom.
There are currently small signs that housing inventory is slowly beginning to increase. Months supply of houses for sale matched last year’s numbers for the last two months after 37 consecutive months of decreasing inventory. New construction data has also shown positive signs that inventory will be increasing.
As inventory begins to meet demand, we will see appreciation return to more normal levels. We are already seeing projections coming in lower than the 6.2% annual average we have seen more recently.
Mark Fleming, Chief Economist at First American, explained it best:
“We’re seeing the first indications that price appreciation may be slowing, but the underlying fundamental housing market conditions support a natural moderation of house prices rather than a sharp decline.”
With home prices continuing to appreciate above historic levels, some are concerned that we may be heading for another housing ‘boom & bust.’ It is important to remember, however, that today’s market is quite different than the bubble market of twelve years ago.
Here are four key metrics that will explain why:
- Home Prices
- Mortgage Standards
- Foreclosure Rates
- Housing Affordability
1. HOME PRICES
There is no doubt that home prices have reached 2006 levels in many markets across the country. However, after more than a decade, home prices should be much higher based on inflation alone.
Last week, CoreLogic reported that,
“The inflation-adjusted U.S. median sale price in June 2006 was $247,110 (or $199,899 in 2006 dollars), compared with $213,400 in March 2018.” (This is the latest data available.)
2. MORTGAGE STANDARDS
Many are concerned that lending institutions are again easing standards to a level that helped create the last housing bubble. However, there is proof that today’s standards are nowhere near as lenient as they were leading up to the crash.
The Urban Institute’s Housing Finance Policy Center issues a monthly index which,
“…measures the percentage of home purchase loans that are likely to default—that is, go unpaid for more than 90 days past their due date. A lower HCAI indicates that lenders are unwilling to tolerate defaults and are imposing tighter lending standards, making it harder to get a loan. A higher HCAI indicates that lenders are willing to tolerate defaults and are taking more risks, making it easier to get a loan.”
Their July Housing Credit Availability Index revealed:
“Significant space remains to safely expand the credit box. If the current default risk was doubled across all channels, risk would still be well within the pre-crisis standard of 12.5 percent from 2001 to 2003 for the whole mortgage market.”
3. FORECLOSURE RATES
A major cause of the housing crash last decade was the number of foreclosures that hit the market. They not only increased the supply of homes for sale but were also being sold at 20-50% discounts. Foreclosures helped drive down all home values.
Today, foreclosure numbers are lower than they were before the housing boom. Here are the number of consumers with new foreclosures according to the Federal Reserve’s most recent Household Debt and Credit Report:
- 2003: 203,320 (earliest reported numbers)
- 2009: 566,180 (at the valley of the crash)
- Today: 76,480
Foreclosures today are less than 40% of what they were in 2003.
4. HOUSING AFFORDABILITY
Contrary to many headlines, home affordability is better now than it was prior to the last housing boom. In the same article referenced in #1, CoreLogic revealed that in the vast majority of markets, “the inflation-adjusted, principal-and-interest mortgage payments that homebuyers have committed to this year remain much lower than their pre-crisis peaks.”
They went on to explain:
“The main reason the typical mortgage payment remains well below record levels in most of the country is that the average mortgage rate back in June 2006, when the U.S. typical mortgage payment peaked, was about 6.7 percent, compared with an average mortgage rate of about 4.4 percent in March 2018.”
The “price” of a home may be higher, but the “cost” is still below historic norms.
After using these four key housing metrics to compare today to last decade, we can see that the current market is not anything like that bubble market
Some experts are calling for a slowdown in the economy later this year and most economists have predicted that the next recession could only be eighteen months away. The question is, what impact will a recession have on the housing market?
Here are the opinions of several experts on the subject:
Ivy Zelman in her latest “Z Report”:
“While economic activity appears to have accelerated so far in 2018, some prominent economic forecasters have become more cautious about growth prospects for 2019 and 2020…
All told, while solid long-term demographic underpinnings support our positive fundamental outlook for housing, in the event micro-economic headwinds surface, we would expect housing transaction volumes and home prices to weather the storm.”
Aaron Terrazas, Zillow’s Senior Economist:
“While much remains unknown about the precise path of the U.S. economy in the years ahead, another housing market crisis is unlikely to be a central protagonist in the next nationwide downturn.”
Mark Fleming, First American’s Chief Economist:
“If a recession is to occur, it is unlikely to be caused by housing-related activity, and therefore the housing sector should be one of the leading sources to come out of the recession.”
Mark J. Hulbert, Financial Analyst and Journalist:
“Real estate may be one of your best investments during the next bear market for stocks. And by real estate, I mean your home or other residential properties.”
U.S. News and World Report:
“Fortunately – and hopefully – the history of recessions and current issues that could harm the economy don’t lead many to believe the housing market crash will repeat itself in an upcoming decline.”
We keep hearing that home affordability is approaching crisis levels. While this may be true in a few metros across the country, housing affordability is not a challenge in the clear majority of the country. In their most recent Real House Price Index, First American reported that consumer “house-buying power” is at “near-historic levels.”
Their index is based on three components:
- Median Household Income
- Mortgage Interest Rates
- Home Prices
The report explains:
“Changing incomes and interest rates either increase or decrease consumer house-buying power or affordability. When incomes rise and/or mortgage rates fall, consumer house-buying power increases.”
Combining these three crucial pieces of the home purchasing process, First American created an index delineating the actual home-buying power that consumers have had dating back to 1991.
Here is a graph comparing First American’s consumer house-buying power (blue area) to the actual median home price that year from the National Association of Realtors (yellow line).
Consumer house-buyer power has been greater than the actual price of a home since 1991. And, the spread is larger over the last decade.
Even though home prices are increasing rapidly and are now close to the values last seen a decade ago, the actual affordability of a home is much better now. As Chief Economist Mark Fleming explains in the report:
“Though unadjusted house prices have risen to record highs, consumer house-buying power stands at near-historic levels, as well, signaling that real house prices are not even close to their historical peak.”