Why You Should Be Excited About the Housing Market

Market Trends

Real Estate Trends

The last two years have been the strangest on record for the housing industry. An unprecedented housing boom increased throughout the 1990s and continued into the new millennium, thanks to relaxed credit standards, sinking interest rates, low unemployment and an insufficient housing supply. But signs now point to the impending end of the boom.

 

In more than 100 U.S. cities, home prices have climbed at least twice as fast as household incomes since 1998, according to The Wall Street Journal with information from the economic consulting firm Economy.com. Home prices have risen nationally three times faster than incomes since the turn of the century, which has made home ownership an impossibility for more Americans than ever before. This is a significant shift from the congruent price and income figures throughout the 1990s boom.

 

In large cities like Atlanta, Las Vegas, Denver, Houston, Tucson and Charleston, S.C., home prices have outpaced income at an incredible rate. In Miami, for example, incomes have risen 16 percent, while home prices have increased 58 percent since early 1998. New York's Long Island suburbs have seen just a 14 percent rise in incomes as compared to an 81 percent increase in home prices. Boston home prices have gone up 89 percent, while incomes have increased only 22 percent.

 

These factors have contributed to the difficulty for first-time homebuyers. The demand for homes in turn has slowed, which would point to an eventual slowing or reversal of the rampant price appreciation of the last decade until the market becomes affordable again.

 

The Wall Street Journal quotes Allen Sinai, chief global economist of Decision Economics Inc., a forecasting firm: "I have never seen an asset market -- whether it's stocks or real estate -- that has boomed to excessive prices ... without a serious downturn. I really doubt we will escape" without price corrections in some cities, he says. "Asset prices don't go straight up forever."

 

Even with a downturn in the real estate market looming on the horizon, home sales are still headed for another record year, and low interest rates alone could prop up the market as long as they last.

 

Mortgage delinquencies are near their highest level in ten years, and 1.23 percent of mortgages are in the foreclosure process, a new record. Market observers say it's only a matter of time before lenders pull back further. Many lenders are tightening credit standards for high-risk borrowers as a result.

 

The current boom was thanks to major changes in the mortgage business over the last ten years, including the growth of Fannie Mae. Along the way, lenders began using computerized loan-approval systems that make it cheaper to process mortgages and easier to identify at-risk borrowers that deserve credit.

 

The first sector to show slowing is the high-end home market. Because of “overpersonalized” big-ticket properties, the pace of house auctions nationwide has surged. Overall, 2001 auction sales were up 30 percent since the mid-1990s to a record $54.5 billion, according to Bloomington, Ind., research firm the Gwent Group. Part of the appeal for sellers, of course, is the chance for a quick sale. At a time when pricey houses are lingering 18 months or more on the market, an auction can take as little as six weeks from start to finish. That's a big plus for cash-strapped homeowners.

 

Low interest rates are the only continuing positive trend of the housing market. Low rates average now less than 6 percent for 30-year fixed-rate loans, the lowest since the 1960s. Prices could take a major turn if rates begin to go up again.

 

Real-estate analysts believe that if the housing market stalls, some areas will continue to grow modestly while other markets gradually go soft, rather than pop. That's because unlike stockholders, homeowners don't normally panic when trouble strikes, and a house is a tangible asset that provides a place to live.

Even so, there hasn’t been as long a period of falling home prices around the country since the Great Depression.

 

While a housing bust is possible, far greater job losses, significantly higher interest rates and a more inflated market across the country would probably be required. Home-price gains remain fairly constant with incomes in many cities, including Cincinnati, St. Louis, Kansas City and Columbus.


What an amazing year 2015 was for home sellers, and 2016 promises to be even better. By December of 2015, with 5.26 million sales, we had seen a more robust housing market than we've seen since 2006. In fact, as of early 2016, America's housing market had spent 43 consecutive months as a seller's market. Lawrence Yun, the National Association of REALTORS (NAR) chief economist chalks up the heavy sales volume to "the prospect of higher mortgage rates in coming months and warm November and December weather."

Get Very Excited if You Plan to Sell Your Home This Year
The combination of high demand for homes and shrinking inventories produces a seller's market and typically signals rising home prices. While many forecasters expect home prices to continue rising this year, they caution that they won't climb as quickly or as much as they did last year. "The NAR is calling for a 4.4 percent increase in existing home prices this year and 3.4 percent in 2017; other economists and strategists also put 2016 price growth in the 4 percent to 5 percent range," claims NAR's Adam DeSanctis.

In addition, inventories of available homes rose slightly last month. Whether or not this signals a trend toward a more balanced housing market remains to be seen. So, yes - although it sounds trite - the best time to sell your home is right now, while inventory is still low. If you will be selling a home priced in the low-to-middle price tier for your market, expect it to go quickly and for top dollar. You will have little competition and the demand in this price range is strong, according to Shu Chen of CoreLogic.

While this type of market makes it easy for home sellers to become complacent, if you expect to get top dollar for your home and want it to sell quickly, do the work required to ensure that it's in move-in condition.


Buying a Home This Year?
While it may seem like there isn't a whole lot for homebuyers to get excited about this year, there is one bonus for you: low interest rates. In fact, according to Freddie Mac's Primary Mortgage Market Survey, 30-year mortgage rates fell in April 2016 to an average of 3.59 percent across the country, down from 3.65 percent the same time last year.

Combine the low rates with more relaxed lending guidelines and there is definitely good news for the 2016 homebuyer. Lower mortgage rates mean a lower monthly payment, which means you have more purchasing power, and that additional power can "mean the difference between buying a 2-bedroom home versus a 3-bedroom one; between buying a home with large closets versus small closets; and, between buying an upgraded home versus a dated one," according to Dan Green at The Mortgage Reports.

Another reason to get excited: It appears that those deep-pocketed investors who pay all cash for homes have left the market. Last year, 33.9 percent of all home sales were to cash buyers, the lowest rate since 2008, according to Molly Boesel with CoreLogic. While there is still plenty of competition out there from other homebuyers for homes in good locations and in decent condition, the playing field is a bit more level.

Yes, there is still a lot of competition from other homebuyers. This makes it more important than ever to have all your ducks in a row before making an offer on a property. Ensure you know exactly how much you can spend and that you've obtained a preapproval letter from your lender. Make your offer stand out from the others by keeping it lean and mean, with the shortest time periods for contingencies as possible. While we're still in a seller's market, come in with your highest and best offer. The market moves too quickly right now to assume the seller will negotiate over price.

Finally, if you've been sitting on the fence waiting for prices to come down, jump off. Home prices are currently rising twice as quickly as incomes, and it doesn't appear the situation will change in the near future.