The internet and smartphones have changed the way we do things. Everything from how we buy groceries to how we listen to music has been affected by technological advances. So it should come as no surprise that shopping for a house has also been transformed by easy access to information and resources. A look at research from the National Association of Realtors shows just how much. For example, in 2003, 42 percent of home buyers said they used the internet frequently during their home search. This year, 83 percent said so. Additionally, over just the past few years, there’s been a nearly 20 percent increase in the number of buyers that said they frequently used a mobile or tablet application while searching for a home. But though the internet has become an important part of the house hunt, most buyers still seek out the expertise and experience of a professional when it comes time to buy. In fact, 89 percent of respondents who said they used the internet during their home search purchased their home through an agent. More here.
According to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s Weekly Applications Survey, average mortgage rates were down last week for loans with conforming balances and the drop helped drive mortgage demand upward. In fact, demand for loans to buy homes was up 9 percent from the week before and is now 2 percent higher than the same week one year ago. Mike Fratantoni, MBA’s chief economist, said the increase in home buying activity follows several weeks of volatility. But though encouraging, the improvement wasn’t evenly distributed. “The rise in purchase activity was led by conventional purchase applications, which surged almost 12 percent, while government purchases were essentially unchanged over the week,” Fratantoni said. “This also pushed the average loan size for purchase applications higher, which likely meant there were fewer first-time home buyers in the market last week.” The survey shows rates were down for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances but unchanged for both jumbo loans and 15-year fixed-rate loans. Rates for loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration were up over the previous week. The MBA’s survey has been conducted since 1990 and covers 75 percent of all retail residential mortgage applications. More here.
Home prices have been increasing for a while. Driven by high buyer demand and a lower-than-normal number of homes for sale, values have been on the rise. But, according to the latest S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Home Price Indices, the rate of home price increases is now starting to slow. In fact, the results show the National Index gained 5.5 percent year-over-year, which is down from 5.7 percent. Additionally, 16 of 20 included cities saw smaller annual increases. David M. Blitzer, managing director and chairman of the index committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices, says month-over-month results show even more evidence that price increases are slowing. “On a monthly basis, nine cities saw prices decline in September compared to August,” Blitzer said. “In Seattle, where prices were rising at double-digit annual rates a few months ago, prices dropped last month.” Overall, prices were up just 0.4 percent month-over-month after seasonal adjustments. Naturally, the report is good news for prospective home buyers, as it means prices are beginning to moderate which will help improve affordability conditions. More here.
Over the past decade, housing market conditions have changed dramatically. The housing crash and subsequent price rebound have caused a shift from buyer’s to seller’s market. Add to that lower-than-normal mortgage rates and a lack of for-sale inventory and prospective home buyers could be forgiven for not knowing what to expect when they head out to look for a home. Fortunately, however, Fannie Mae’s most recent forecast from their Economic and Strategic Research Group contains some good news. That’s because, though they expect continuing market challenges due to recent mortgage rate increases and too few homes for sale in the lower tier of the market, they do expect things to be better balanced in 2019. In fact, Doug Duncan, Fannie Mae’s chief economist, says the market may be steadier than it has been. “We expect that existing and new home sales will stabilize in 2019 as home price appreciation moderates and mortgage rates begin to stabilize,” Duncan said. In other words, potential home buyers should expect less volatility next year, though they should still prepare for a competitive market. More here.
Sales of previously owned homes rose 1.4 percent in October from the month before, according to new numbers from the National Association of Realtors. The increase was the first in six months. Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, said housing inventory is increasing and it’s bringing buyers back to the market. “After six consecutive months of decline, buyers are finally stepping back into the housing market,” Yun said. “Gains in the Northeast, South, and West – a reversal from last month’s steep decline or plateau in all regions – helped overall sales activity rise for the first time since March 2018.” And while total housing inventory was down in October, it is up from where it was last year at the same time. In fact, at the current sales pace, there is a 4.3-month supply of unsold homes available for sale. Last October, there was just a 3.9-month supply. Also, the typical property was on the market for 33 days, which is up from 32 in September. Yun says healthier inventory has helped price growth to slow and “allows for much more manageable, less frenzied buying conditions.” More here.
According to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s Weekly Applications Survey, average mortgage rates fell last week, reversing an upward trend seen over the past several weeks. Though the decline was slight, it affected all loan categories except those backed by the Federal Housing Administration. Joel Kan, MBA’s associate vice president of economic and industry forecasting, says rates slowed due to economic concerns. “Treasury rates declined last week, as equity markets continued to see large swings amidst investor concerns over global economic growth,” Kan said. “As a result, mortgage rates inched back across most loan types, including the 15-year fixed-rate mortgage, 5/1 ARM, and 30-year jumbo mortgage rate. The 30-year fixed rate-mortgage also declined, stopping a run of six straight weekly increases.” Decreasing rates helped boost demand for loans to buy homes, which rose 3 percent higher than the previous week. Refinance activity, however, remained down, falling 5 percent. The MBA’s weekly survey has been conducted since 1990 and covers 75 percent of all retail residential mortgage applications. More here.
For most of this year, new home builders have been optimistic. With high buyer demand and a stronger economy, the market for newly built homes was building some momentum. But, according to the most recent Housing Market Index from the National Association of Home Builders, conditions are changing and builders are reacting. In fact, the index – which measures builder confidence on a scale where any number above 50 indicates more builders view conditions as good than poor – dropped eight points in November. Robert Dietz, NAHB’s chief economist, says it’s partly due to increasing mortgage rates. “For the past several years, shortages of labor and lots along with rising regulatory costs have led to a slow recovery in single-family construction,” Dietz said. “While home price growth accommodated increasing construction costs during this period, rising mortgage interest rates in recent months coupled with the cumulative run-up in pricing has caused housing demand to stall.” Still, despite a drop this month, the index remains in positive territory at 60. Which means, though builders are concerned that mortgage rate increases may hurt demand for new homes, they still see market conditions as good. In fact, the index component measuring expectations for the next six months was at 65 in November. More here.
Young Americans want to own a home. Research consistently shows large majorities who say they aspire to one day become homeowners. And yet, the number of first-time home buyers active in the market has been lower than what is historically normal for several years. So why aren’t more young Americans buying houses? Well there are a number of factors at play but, among them, student loan debt is a big one. According to one recent study, the average monthly student debt payment for current renters who say they’d like to buy a home in the next year is $388. Naturally, an extra $400 a month to devote to a mortgage payment could go a long way. In fact, with that money, a buyer could afford a house that cost almost $100,000 more. But though that may seem discouraging, the same report also found that prospective buyers with student loan debt can still afford 52.3 percent of homes currently listed for sale. And, in areas where there are more affordable homes available for sale, it’s even easier to find something in a price range that works. In St. Louis, for example, a buyer with student loan debt can still afford nearly 75 percent of currently listed homes. More here.
One good way of measuring where home prices are headed is to look at how many homes for sale have had to adjust their initial listing price. If there are a lot of homes in your area with price reductions, it could be a sign that the local market is softening. And, according to one national report, it likely is. That’s because, new numbers show 31.3 percent of homes for sale in October had at least one price cut of more than 1 percent. By comparison, last year at the same time just 25 percent of homes had previously dropped their price. That means an increasing number of homeowners with homes for sale are adjusting their price to attract home buyers. Whether this is due to a seasonal slow down, a reaction to recent mortgage rate increases, or the beginning of a better balanced market remains to be seen. But with fewer than half of the metro areas included in the report showing month-over-month price gains, it’s definitely good news for prospective home buyers this fall and winter. More here.
Naturally, affordability is a big consideration for anyone buying a home. After all, it’s a significant purchase and you want to be sure you’re getting a good deal. For that reason, recent reports of higher prices and rising mortgage rates may give you the impression that buying a house is out of reach. But new data from the National Association of Home Builders shows otherwise. That’s because, their Housing Opportunity Index found that the majority of “new and existing homes sold between the beginning of July and end of September were affordable to families earning the U.S. median income of $71,900.” In fact, 56.4 percent of homes sold during the third quarter were affordable. But, though that’s encouraging news, it is down from the previous quarter when 57.1 percent of the homes sold were considered affordable. Robert Dietz, NAHB’s chief economist, said the economy is helping keep homes within reach of the typical buyer but affordability trends are still a concern. “Ongoing job and economic growth provide a solid backdrop for housing demand amid recent declines in affordability,” Dietz said. “However, housing affordability will need to stabilize to keep forward momentum from diminishing as we move into the new year.” More here.