As we head toward the end of the year, it’s time to recap how the U.S. economy and housing markets performed this year and offer my predictions for 2020.
In general, the economy performed pretty much as I expected this year: job growth slowed but the unemployment rate still hovers around levels not seen since the late 1960s.
Following the significant drop in corporate tax rates in January 2018, economic growth experience a big jump. However, we haven’t been able to continue those gains and I doubt we’ll return to 2%+ growth next year. Due to this slowing, I expect GDP to come in at only +1.4% next year. Non-residential fixed investment has started to wane as companies try to anticipate where economic policy will move next year. Furthermore, many businesses remain concerned over ongoing trade issues with China.
In 2020, I expect payrolls to continue growing, but the rate of growth will slow as the country adds fewer than 1.7 million new jobs. Due to this hiring slow down, the unemployment rate will start to rise, but still end the year at a very respectable 4.1%.
Many economists, including me, spent much of 2019 worried about the specter of a looming recession in 2020. Thankfully, such fears have started to wane (at least for now).
Despite some concerning signs, the likelihood that we will enter a recession in 2020 has dropped to about 26%. If we manage to stave off a recession in 2020, the possibility of a slowdown in 2021 is around 74%. That said, I fully expect that any drop in growth will be mild and will not negatively affect the U.S. housing market.
As I write this article, full-year data has yet to be released. However, I feel confident that 2019 will end with a slight rise in home sales. For 2020, I expect sales to rise around 2.9% to just over 5.5 million units.
Home prices next year will continue to rise as mortgage rates remain very competitive. Look for prices to increase 3.8% in 2020 as demand continues to exceed supply and more first-time buyers enter the market.
In the year ahead, I expect the share of first-time buyers to grow, making them a very significant component of the housing market.
The new-home market has been pretty disappointing for most of the year due to significant obstacles preventing builders from building. Land prices, labor and material costs, and regulatory fees make it very hard for builders to produce affordable housing. As a result, many are still focused on the luxury market where there are profits to be made, despite high demand from entry-level buyers.
Builders are aware of this and are doing their best to deliver more affordable product. As such, I believe single-family housing starts will rise next year to 942,000 units—an increase of 6.8% over 2019 and the highest number since 2007.
As the market starts to deliver more units, sales will rise just over 5%, but the increase in sales will be due to lower priced housing. Accordingly, new home prices are set to rise just 2.5% next year.
Next year will still be very positive from a home-financing perspective, with the average rate for a 30-year conventional, fixed-rate mortgage averaging under 4%. That said, if there are significant improvements in trade issues with China, this forecast may change, but not significantly.
In this coming year, affordability issues will persist in many markets around the country, such as San Francisco; Los Angeles; San Jose; Seattle; and Bend, Oregon. The market will also continue to favor home sellers, but we will start to move more toward balance, resulting in another positive year overall for U.S. housing.
About Matthew Gardner:
As Chief Economist for Windermere Real Estate, Matthew Gardner is responsible for analyzing and interpreting economic data and its impact on the real estate market on both a local and national level. Matthew has over 30 years of professional experience both in the U.S. and U.K.
In addition to his day-to-day responsibilities, Matthew sits on the Washington State Governors Council of Economic Advisors; chairs the Board of Trustees at the Washington Center for Real Estate Research at the University of Washington; and is an Advisory Board Member at the Runstad Center for Real Estate Studies at the University of Washington where he also lectures in real estate economics.
Annual employment growth in Colorado was measured at a respectable 2.2% in November and will likely finish the year having created around 55,000 new jobs. Within the metropolitan market areas included in this report, we are seeing employment growth at or above the state level and I anticipate that this will continue to be the case in 2017.
Unemployment rates continue to drop, and with rates now below three percent, all of Colorado’s metro areas are at full employment. Because of this robust level of growth—in concert with very low unemployment levels—I anticipate that we will see some fairly substantial income growth as companies look to recruit new talent and keep existing employees happy.
HOME SALE ACTIVITY
- There were 14,614 home sales during the fourth quarter of 2016—up by a marginal 0.7% from the same period in 2015.
- Jefferson County saw sales grow at the fastest rate over the past 12 months, with a 5.9% increase. Sales activity fell in three counties, but this was a function of short supply rather than slowing demand.
- Listing activity continues to remain well below historic averages, with the total number of homes for sale in the fourth quarter 12.8% below that seen a year ago.
- The key takeaway from this data is that 2017 is shaping up to be one which will still substantially favor home sellers. I do anticipate that we will see some improvement in listing activity, but it is almost a certainty that demand will exceed supply for another year.
- Demand continued to exceed supply in the final three months of 2016 and this caused home prices to continue to rise. In the fourth quarter, average prices rose by 9% when compared to the fourth quarter of 2015. The average sales price across the region is now $393,969.
- In many parts of the region, prices are well above historic highs and continue to trend upward. With double-digit price increases over the past year, the market remains very hot.
- Annual price growth was strongest in Larimer and Jefferson Counties, where prices rose by 11.8% and 10.9% respectively.
- While we will likely see some modest softening in home price growth in 2017, we can still expect a very strong market.
DAYS ON MARKET
- The average number of days it took to sell a home dropped by one day when compared to the fourth quarter of 2015.
- Homes in a majority of the counties took less than a month to sell.
- In the final quarter of the year, it took an average of just 27 days to sell a home. This is down from the 28 days it took in the fourth quarter of 2015.
- The Northern Colorado housing market is still firing on all cylinders. The only missing piece is listings, which remain well below the historic average.
This speedometer reflects the state of the region’s housing market using housing inventory, price gains, sales velocities, interest rates, and larger economic factors.
For the fourth quarter of 2016, the needle remains firmly in the seller’s territory. It will be interesting to see if the recent increase in mortgage rates has any effect at all on the housing market. I believe that it will; however, I expect that it will likely cause a slowdown in home price growth rather than any collapse in home prices.
Matthew Gardner is the Chief Economist for Windermere Real Estate, specializing in residential market analysis, commercial/industrial market analysis, financial analysis, and land use and regional economics. He is the former Principal of Gardner Economics, and has over 25 years of professional experience both in the U.S. and U.K.