The housing market is hot – but is it too hot? Here’s what the experts say

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22Searches for the phrase, ‘When is the housing market going to crash?’ are up 2,450% over the past month, as reported by MarketWatch. Similarly, Americans are searching in droves for explanations about why the housing market is so hot and why home prices are rising, Google reported.

Americans’ concerns are perhaps a natural by-product of today’s extremely competitive market, economists said. For some, today’s real-estate market might feel eerily similar to the market conditions that preceded the Great Recession. Given that the last housing boom triggered a global economic meltdown, these concerns are certainly understandable. But housing experts argue that Americans don’t need to get themselves too worked up — yet.

“We’re not going to see a crash in the housing market, but we are expecting some cooling on the really unsustainable growth rates that we saw, particularly in 2020,” said Robert Dietz, chief economist at the National Association of Home Builders. “When home prices are growing faster than incomes, ultimately that is an unsustainable trend.”

The circumstances contributing to today’s booming housing market are very different from what precipitated the last boom and bust cycle. In particular, lenders are being far more careful. Most housing experts project that mortgage rates will only rise somewhat modestly this year. Interest rates have rebounded from the record lows set at the start of the year, but in recent works, they settled around 3%.

Should rates resume their upward climb, home price growth is likely to slow in response, experts say. And that could give some buyers an opening, as affordability pushes others out of the market for the time being.

Existing home sales suffer as tight supply push prices higher

Closed sales of existing homes fell 3.7% in March to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 6.01 million units, according to the National Association of Realtors. According to CNBC, that is the slowest sales pace since August and the second straight month of declines.

Realtors say the monthly numbers are dropping due to limited supply. The demand is there. Homes are selling in an average of just 18 days, which is considered an extremely fast rate.

“If the demand was retreating, then we would see fewer multiple offers, but we know that multiple offers are widely prevalent in today’s market,” said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the Realtors.

More homes have been coming on the market in the past few weeks, but the market is still incredibly lean, especially on the low end. Higher-end home listings are more plentiful.

“Although homes are far from plentiful, housing supply could be reaching a turning point thanks to a surge in new listings just as the housing market hits the best time of the year to sell a home,” said Danielle Hale, chief economist for realtor.com. “Also, builders are finding a way to build a growing number of new homes despite challenges.”

Builders are, however, still producing well below demand levels, as prices for land, labor and materials rise. Lumber hit several new highs just this month. Some builders are delaying projects so they’re not buying materials at the peak of the market.

Hispanic homeownership surged in 2020

According to HousingWire, Hispanic homeownership in the U.S. climbed significantly in 2020 – there are now 8.8 million Hispanic homeowners in the country, according to a report released this week by the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals. That’s 725,000 more than in 2019.

The report, citing U.S. Census data and its own research, now pegs the Hispanic homeownership rate at between 48-49%, which is an uptick of a full percentage point from one year before.

It marks the sixth year in a row that the Hispanic homeownership rate has increased. But 2020’s jump was several hundred-thousand homeowners more than in prior years.

The report’s authors attribute the jump to “record-low interest rates and an overwhelming desire to purchase a home during the pandemic.” Another key factor is the median age of Hispanics, which is 29.8 years-old, or 14 years younger than the non-Hispanic white population.

What is not a factor, the report acknowledged, is general economic prosperity. Hispanic people were hit especially hit by the COVID pandemic, with the group’s unemployment rate jumping to 10.4% in 2020. The abrupt shift to a work-from-home economy last year was particularly difficult. Only 29% of Hispanics were able to work from home, the study notes, compared to 49% of non-Hispanic whites.

“Homeownership is the single most powerful strategy for closing the racial and ethnic wealth gap,” the report stated. “To underscore the point, Latino homeowners in 2019 had a net worth of 40 times that of Latino renters.”

Weekly Mortgage Rate Update

The drop in mortgage rates is good news for homeowners who are still looking to take advantage of the very low rate environment. 

Freddie Mac research suggests that lower income and minority homeowners have been less likely to engage in the refinance market. Low and declining mortgage rates provide these homeowners the opportunity to reduce their monthly payment and improve their financial position.

The Freddie Mac weekly survey shows the average rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage is 2.97%, which is 0.07 points lower than last week, and down 0.36 points from this time last year. 

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