The last time we saw a balanced market was late 1990s, meaning many sellers and buyers have never seen a normal housing market. Windermere Real Estate’s Chief Economist Matthew Gardner looks at more longer-term averages, what does he see for the future of the housing market?
Interest rates have been trending higher since the fall of 2017, and I fully expect they will continue in that direction – albeit relatively slowly – as we move through the balance of the year and into 2019. So what does this mean for the US housing market?
It might come as a surprise to learn that I really don’t think rising interest rates will have a major impact on the housing market. Here is my reasoning:
1. First Time Home Buyers
As interest rates rise, I expect more buyers to get off the fence and into the market; specifically, first time buyers who, according to Freddie Mac, made up nearly half of new mortgages in the first quarter of this year. First-time buyers are critical to the overall health of the housing market because of the subsequent chain reaction of sales that result so this is actually a positive outcome of rising rates.
2. Easing Credit Standards
Rising interest rates may actually push some lenders to modestly ease credit standards. I know this statement will cause some people to think that easing credit will immediately send us back to the days of sub-prime lending and housing bubbles, but I don’t see this happening. Even a very modest easing of credit will allow for more than one million new home buyers to qualify for a mortgage.
3. Low Unemployment
We stand today in a country with very low unemployment (currently 4.0% and likely to get close to 3.5% by year’s end). Low unemployment rates encourage employers to raise wages to keep existing talent, as well as to recruit new talent. Wage growth can, to a degree, offset increasing interest rates because, as wages rise, buyers can afford higher mortgage payments.
There is a clear relationship between housing supply, home prices, and interest rates. We’re already seeing a shift in inventory levels with more homes coming on the market, and I fully expect this trend to continue for the foreseeable future. This increase in supply is, in part, a result of homeowners looking to cash in on their home’s appreciation before interest rates rise too far. This, on its own, will help ease the growth of home prices and offset rising interest rates. Furthermore, if we start to see more new construction activity at the lower end of the market, this too will help.
National versus Local
Up until this point, I’ve looked at how rising interest rates might impact the housing market on a national level, but as we all know, real estate is local, and different markets react to shifts in different ways. For example, rising interest rates will be felt more in expensive housing markets, such as San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, and Orange County, but I expect to see less impact in areas like Cleveland, Philadelphia, Pittsburg, and Detroit, where buyers spend a lower percentage of their incomes on housing. The exception to this would be if interest rates continue to rise for a prolonged period; in that case, we might see demand start to taper off, especially in the less expensive housing markets where buyers are more price sensitive.
For more than seven years, home buyers and real estate professionals alike have grown very accustomed to historically low interest rates. We always knew the time would come when they would begin to rise again, but that doesn’t mean the outlook for housing is doom and gloom. On the contrary, I believe rising interest rates will help bring us closer to a more balanced real estate market, something that is sorely needed in many markets across the country.
When making an important decision like buying a new home, personal circumstances are often a driving force. Whether you are a first-time homebuyer, need more space for your growing family, downsizing to fit an empty nest, or looking for a retirement property, finding the right information, the right real estate agent, and the right properties that fit your needs are all important parts of that process. Based on recent studies by the National Association of REALTORS®on generational trends, we can identify the best resources to help you in any phase of your life.
Among all generations, the first step most buyers take when searching for a home is online. Younger generations tend to find the home they eventually purchase online, while older generations generally find the home they purchase through their real estate agent.
Across generations, home ownership still represents a significant step in achieving the American Dream. According to a study by LearnVest, an online financial resource, 77 percent of those surveyed believed that buying a home of their own was, “first and foremost in achieving the American Dream”.
How that dream manifests is different for those who have grown up in different eras.
Also known as Generation Y or the Echo Boomers because this generation almost equals the baby boomers in population. This age group is the second largest group of recent homebuyers, representing 28 percent according to the National Association of REALTORS. 79 percent of homebuyers in this age are purchasing their first home. According to the 2012 Trulia American Dream Study, 93 percent of renters in this generation plan on purchasing a home someday.
When considering a home purchase, Millennials (and some Generation X buyers) place a high value on convenience to work, affordability, and the quality of school district. This generation is the most likely to choose an urban center as the location of their first home. According to market research by Gfk Roper, this group is most interested in their home as a social hub, with a focus on entertainment and amenities.
When looking for a real estate agent, Millennials are most likely to looks to friends and family for a referral. They generally place a high value on an agent’s honesty and trustworthiness because they are often relying on their agent to walk them through the home purchase process for the first time.
As the largest group of recent homebuyers, the LearnVest findings suggest that 72 percent of Americans in this generation are already homeowners. They also represent the largest group of home sellers, with a substantial percentage of the group looking to upgrade their home to accommodate their growing families or increase investment. Experts in the real estate industry expect this group to lead in the recovered real estate market.
Generation X households are more likely to have a dual income, with both adult members in the household working. According to a study by GfK Roper, a market research company, this generation placed state-of-the-art kitchens at the top of their priorities, as well as large closets and amenities for organization, since many Gen Xers have children living in their homes. They are less concerned about formality in their home and have less interest in formal dining and living rooms.
Interestingly enough, the NAR study finds that as the age of the homebuyer increases, the age of the home being purchased declines. Baby boomers and older buyers are looking for newer construction, with less need for renovations or large maintenance issues. This generation ranks state-of-the-art kitchens, whirlpool baths, walk-in closets, and hobby spaces high on their list of must-haves, according to GfK Roper.
The boomer generation is also looking to the future for both themselves and their aging parents, “fourteen percent of homebuyers over the age of 48 are looking to purchase senior-related homes, for themselves or others” according to the NAR study. Boomer parents are becoming accustomed to (or preparing for) an empty nest, so this group may be downsizing or looking for a home that specifically fits their needs.
This generation of buyers places a bigger emphasis on finding a home closer to friends, family, and health facilities. While this generation uses the Internet to find their home in the early stages of a home search, they work more directly with a trusted real estate agent to find the home that specifically fits their needs. A home purchase for members of this generation will likely not be a first-time experience so they are less willing to compromise on the price, size, or condition of a home.
This generation is generally more satisfied with the homebuying and selling process because they have been through it before and know what to expect. According to the Trulia American Dream study, this group is also most likely to have realistic assumptions about the cost of a home and mortgage.
The housing market is remarkably tight across the U.S., and you may be wondering if you should wait for home prices to slow before making your move. Windermere’s Chief Economist, Matthew Gardner, shares why waiting could end up costing you more money in the long run.
There are two common concerns about the housing market that one hears from both consumers and real estate professionals alike. First, they question whether or not we are on the brink of another housing bubble, and second, they want to know why there aren’t more homes for sale.
I don’t plan on addressing the concern regarding a housing bubble in this article except to say that we are not currently in “bubble” territory, although affordability does concern me immensely. Today I would like to concentrate on the second question about the lack of homes for sale.
According to the National Association of REALTORS®, there were 1.96 million homes for sale in the United States in May 2017. When adjusted for seasonality, this falls to just below 1.9 million which is essentially the same level we saw back in 2000.
Now consider that the country has added over 21 million new households during that same time period, and you can see why this is so troubling. It is worth noting that many of these new households did move into rental properties, but this still leaves the U.S. with a substantial housing shortfall, which explains why demand for homes is so high.
With the shortage of homes for sale, you would normally expect builders to meet this pent-up demand with new construction housing but, unfortunately, this has not been the case. In fact, new single-family housing starts are running at about 800,000 (annualized), and I believe we need starts to come in at over 1 million to satisfy demand – especially as older Millennials start to create households of their own and begin thinking about buying instead of renting.
We therefore have a quandary. Trust in the housing market has clearly returned, but there are not enough homes to meet the demand of buyers, and when a buyer does find a home, they are met with very stiff competition, which is driving prices increasingly higher.
So why are we in this position and how do we get out of it?
In reality, there is no single reason for the situation we are in today. Rather it is a number of factors that, when combined, suggest to me that the market will not return to equilibrium any time soon.
The first reason for the shortfall is purely demographic. As “Boomers” age, they are not following the trends of previous generations. Many are staying in the workforce far longer than their predecessors, and, as they are postponing retirement, they do not feel compelled to downsize. In fact, almost two-thirds of Boomers plan to age in place and not move even after retirement. Without this anticipated supply of homes from downsizing Boomers, there aren’t enough homes for move-up buyers, which in turn limits the supply of homes for first-time buyers.
Secondly, as a nation we just aren’t moving as often as we used to. When I analyze mobility, it is clear that people no longer have to relocate as frequently to find a job that matches their skill set. There has been a tangible drop in geographic specificity of occupations. Where we used to move to find work, this is no longer as prevalent, which means we are moving with less frequency.
Thirdly, as mentioned earlier, builders aren’t building as many homes as they could. This is essentially due to three factors: land supply/regulation, labor, and materials. The costs related to building a home have risen rapidly since the Great Recession, and this is holding many builders back from building to their potential. Furthermore, in order to justify the additional costs, many of the homes that are being built are larger and more expensive, and this is no help for the first-time buyer who simply can’t afford a new construction price tag.
Fourthly, while the general consensus is that home prices have recovered from the major correction that was seen following the recession, this is actually not the case in some markets. In fact, there are 32 U.S. metro areas where home prices are still more than 15 percent below the pre-recession peak. As equity levels remain low, or non-existent, in these markets, many would-be sellers are waiting until they have sufficient equity in their homes before putting them on the market.
And there is still one more issue that is certain to become a major factor over the next few years: interest rates.
Imagine, if you will, the country a few years from now when interest rates have normalized to levels somewhere around 6 percent. Now consider potential home sellers who are happily locked in at a mortgage rate of about 4 percent who are considering their options. Will they sell and lose the historically low rate that they currently have? Remember that for every 1 percent increase in rates, buyers can afford 10 percent less house. If they don’t HAVE to sell, their thoughts may lead to remodeling rather than moving. I think that this is a very reasonable hypothesis which could lead us to see low inventory levels for a lot longer than many think.
With little assistance from the new home market, I believe we will suffer from low inventory levels until well into 2018.
Our best hope for a more balanced market lies with builders, so hopefully they’ll be allowed to do what they do best – build more homes.