Published by Kartik Subramaniam
A question a have been getting regularly lately is “If interest rates are so high, why aren’t prices coming down?!” I get this question from students in our real estate license school as well as from past and potential clients.
This is a totally understandable question to ask, especially given the fact that interest rates have more than doubled in the past few years. The real estate market is experiencing high mortgage rates and an unprecedented housing inventory shortage - the market seems to be at a stalemate. This isn’t just true in southern California where we operate a real estate school and provide real estate crash courses to prepare folks for the real estate exam - this story is true all across the United States. The reality is that most U.S. homeowners remain tethered to their current homes due to significantly lower mortgage rates locked in over previous years.
A recent analysis by Redfin revealed that nearly 92 percent of homeowners with mortgages have an interest rate below 6%, much lower than the current average mortgage rate of 6.71%. "Why would I want to sell my house when I have a really low 3% interest rate on my mortgage? If I buy a new house, I might end up with an interest rate that could be twice as high as my current one!” is the sentiment of many.
As a consequence, the lack of available homes for sale has led to the housing market entering a very odd place, as noted by Redfin's Deputy Chief Economist, Taylor Marr. The reluctance from homeowners to list their properties, fostered by the significantly higher current mortgage rates, is stagnating the market, making it difficult for buyers to find suitable properties. There just isn’t enough inventory.
A bit of bright news for the market is that the Federal Reserve in its most recent meeting opted against an 11th consecutive interest rate increase, which signaled a "hawkish pause" as it evaluates the impact of the previous rate hikes. However, the Fed indicated the likelihood of two more quarter percentage point increases by the end of the year, pushing the median expectation to a funds rate (not mortgage rate) of 5.6% by the end of 2023.
The pause in interest rate hikes is intended to allow the Fed to monitor the impacts of its policy moves as it battles uneven but optimistic signs of inflation being under control. The decision resulted from various factors, including solid labor market performance and, as previously mentioned, slowing inflation rates. The future outlook suggests the possibility of rate cuts beginning in 2024, with raised expectations for economic growth and an optimistic outlook on unemployment rates. The inflation projections were also adjusted, but the overall impacts of the policy adjustments are yet to be fully realized in the economy. It has been said that an economy as large as the United States’ is like turning an aircraft carrier. To move in another direction requires turning the wheel miles and miles ahead of time.
On a national level, regions where the inventory shortage is particularly acute include Hartford, Connecticut, and Buffalo, New York. Housing inventory hovers near record lows in these markets, where new construction is scarce. Hartford had just 1.4 months of housing supply in December, while in the past, a balanced housing market was considered to have between four and six months of supply.
"Months of housing supply" is a metric often used by real estate professionals to measure the balance between supply and demand in the housing market. It's calculated by taking the current inventory of homes for sale and dividing it by the current sales rate (the number of homes sold per month).
In this context, if Hartford has 1.4 months of housing supply, it means that at the current sales pace, all the homes currently listed for sale would be sold in approximately 1.4 months, assuming no new homes are listed.
On the other hand, a balanced housing market is typically said to have between four and six months of supply. This means that it would take four to six months to sell all the homes currently on the market at the current sales pace. If the months of supply are less than this (like 1.4 months in Hartford's case), it generally indicates a seller's market because demand is outpacing supply. If it's more, it could be a buyer's market because supply exceeds demand.
Therefore, Hartford's low 'months of housing supply' indicates a significant shortage of homes for sale compared to the number of interested buyers, leading to increased competition among buyers and potentially higher home prices. It’s the same story around much of the United States as low inventory continues to squeeze the housing markets all across the country. California is no exception.
In addition to high mortgage rates, other factors contributing to low inventory include older Americans opting to age in place, investors purchasing homes for renting purposes, and the lack of new construction. Buyers priced out of major markets are relocating to smaller cities, creating demand in areas traditionally not associated with a housing crunch. This leads to emotionally charged house-hunting experiences, buyers are left with few options and the prospect of waiting long periods to find their dream home.
Meanwhile, investor activity is also altering the market dynamics, with the proportion of single-family homes purchased by investors increasing from 15-16% each year from 2012 to 24% in 2021 Cities such as Austin, Nashville, and Dallas, which experienced bidding wars and price hikes in recent years due to low inventory, are now seeing a leveling off of prices due to increased available homes.
The U.S. housing market currently presents a bittersweet scenario. With homeowners holding on to their homes and the housing inventory at record lows, it's a challenging time for those looking to enter or navigate the market. As things stand, the market remains skewed, favoring neither buyer nor seller, and it's a situation that appears likely to stay the same in the immediate future.
It's essential to understand that such fluctuations and shifts present unique opportunities for those interested in the world of real estate. Yes, mortgage rates are high, and inventory is low, but this only increases the need for competent, understanding, and proactive real estate professionals who can navigate this challenging terrain. Obtaining a real estate license isn't just about selling homes; it's about understanding market dynamics, providing sound advice, and adapting to changing circumstances. This unique state of the market offers a wealth of learning experiences and the potential for lucrative returns. Moreover, as the market stabilizes and evolves, there will be a strong demand for qualified professionals to guide clients through their real estate journey.
Remember, every market condition brings its own advantages and opportunities – the key lies in being prepared and willing to leverage them effectively. So, don't be discouraged. Embrace the opportunity to learn, grow, and become a valuable player in the real estate industry.
TLDR: The U.S. housing market is currently experiencing a unique state characterized by high mortgage rates and an unprecedented low inventory, leading to a market stalemate with homeowners reluctant to sell due to lower locked-in mortgage rates. However, the market's fluctuations are seen as opportunities for competent real estate professionals to navigate these challenges, understand market dynamics, and leverage changing circumstances to their advantage.
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