The housing market has gotten a little easier for buyers lately. Listings are lasting longer and home-price increases have slowed. It’s definitely still a seller’s market, but buyers have it easier than they did last year at this time. Of course, how much easier depends on where and what you’re looking to buy. Conditions can vary from one neighborhood to the next. They can also vary depending on price range. In fact, according to one recent report, if you’re shopping for something smaller and more affordable, you’re going to find more competition among buyers than you would if you were shopping for something larger and more expensive. Why? The answer is inventory. While the number of homes for sale has been growing lately, the inventory of affordable homes has been growing at a slower rate than the inventory of higher priced homes. At the high end of the market, inventory is up 19.3 percent from where it was last year. The inventory of affordable homes, on the other hand, grew just 10.4 percent over the past 12 months. In other words, buyers looking for something more affordable should still prepare for a competitive market, even if it’s slower than last year’s. (source)
According to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s Weekly Applications Survey, average mortgage rates were mostly calm last week, after two consecutive weeks of declines. There was only slight movement among different loan types. For example, rates increased for 30-year fixed-rate loans with both conforming and jumbo balances but were down for loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration. Rates for 15-year fixed-rate mortgages were unchanged from the week before. Joel Kan, MBA’s associate vice president of economic and industry forecasting, says mortgage applications were mostly flat as a result. “Mortgage applications were relatively flat, with a decline in purchase activity offset by an increase in refinance applications,” Kan said. “The purchase market continues to experience a slowdown, despite the strong job market. Activity has now fallen in five of the last six weeks.” Demand for loans to buy homes fell 1 percent from the week before. The MBA’s weekly survey has been conducted since 1990 and covers 75 percent of all retail residential mortgage applications. (source)
The National Association of Realtors’ Pending Home Sales Index is considered a good indicator of future home sales because it measures contract signings rather than closings. Generally speaking, contracts to buy are signed weeks before a sale is closed, which means a drop in the number of signed contracts will most likely show up as a decline in home sales the following month. In April, the NAR’s index fell 3.9 percent, indicating that home sales will soon slow. The reasons for this are obvious: Spiking mortgage rates, on top of already high home prices, have buyers concerned about affordability. But, according to Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, quickly changing conditions could soon stabilize, offering home buyers more certainty in the months ahead. “If mortgage rates stabilize roughly at the current level … and job gains continue, home sales could also stabilize in the coming months,” Yun said. “Home prices in the meantime appear in no danger of any meaningful decline. There is an ongoing housing shortage, and properly listed homes are still selling swiftly – generally seeing a contract signed within a month.”
Homeownership has many benefits. It also comes with a fair amount of responsibilities. Among them, maintenance is a big one. It’s up to you to keep your home in good shape, fix things when they break, and make sure mechanical systems are in working order. Of course, you can hire contractors to do the work, but finding good, affordable help can be challenging and the costs definitely add up. So when shopping for a home to buy, it’s also good to have an idea of how handy you are around the house. Being able to handle some home improvement and maintenance projects can help save you money. It can also help widen your options, as you may be more comfortable buying a house that needs a little love and attention. But first, you need to assess your skill level. According to one recent survey, 47 percent of Americans consider themselves handy. Fewer say they’re extremely handy, with 18 percent of respondents ranking their skill level on the higher end of the handiness scale. How handy do you consider yourself?
Home builders are a reliable barometer of housing market health, since their business depends on being able to anticipate buyers’ needs. That’s why the National Association of Home Builders’ monthly Housing Market Index – which measures builder confidence – is a closely watched industry metric. The index is scored on a scale where any number above 50 indicates more builders view conditions as good than poor. In May, the index fell for the fifth straight month, dropping to 69. Though still a positive result, it’s an indication that builders are starting to feel the effects of numerous challenges facing the market, including higher mortgage rates. “The housing market is facing growing challenges,” Robert Dietz, NAHB’s chief economist, said. “Building material costs are up 19 percent from a year ago, in less than three months mortgage rates have surged to a 12-year high and based on current affordability conditions, less than 50 percent of new and existing home sales are affordable for a typical family.” But while the market has become more challenging, all three index components remain in positive territory, including the gauge of current sales conditions which scored a 78 in May. (source)
Buying a home has become less affordable over the past year. Home prices have surged as buyer demand outpaced the inventory of homes for sale. But while homeownership has gotten less affordable, it’s still within the average Americans’ financial means, according to a new report from ATTOM Data Solutions. Their fourth-quarter 2021 U.S. Home Affordability Report found that the cost of owning a median-priced home now consumes about 25 percent of the average national wage of $65,546. That’s within the 28-percent standard lenders use to determine whether or not borrowers can afford a monthly mortgage payment, insurance, and taxes. In other words, homeownership may have gotten less affordable but it hasn’t become unaffordable. “The average wage earner can still afford the typical home across the United States, but the financial comfort zone continues shrinking as home prices keep soaring and mortgage rates tick upward,” Todd Teta, ATTOM’s chief product officer, said. Teta says rising wages and still-low mortgage rates are helping to balance home-price increases, which has kept the cost of homeownership manageable. (source)
The National Association of Realtors’ Pending Home Sales Index tracks the number of contracts to buy homes that are signed each month. Because it tracks contract signings, not closings, it can be a good indicator of future home sales. In November, the index found pending sales down 2.2 percent from the month before. Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, says home buying conditions are challenging right now but relief may be on the way. “There was less pending home sales action this time around, which I would ascribe to low housing supply, but also to buyers being hesitant about home prices,” Yun said. “While I expect neither a price reduction, nor another year of record-pace price gains, the market will see more inventory in 2022 and that will help some consumers with affordability.” Regionally, contract signings were mostly flat except for in the Midwest, where they fell 6.3 percent. The West also saw a decline, with contract activity down 2.2 percent month over month.
These days, housing market conditions are fairly easy to understand. There are fewer homes for sale and, because of that, home prices continue to rise. It’s simple supply and demand. When there are fewer homes for buyers to choose from, the ones that are available go for a higher price. But while that’s been the case for a while now, the most recent S&P Case-Shiller Indices – considered the leading measure of U.S. home prices – offers some encouraging news. The index found that, while prices are still climbing, they’re now increasing at a slower pace. Craig J. Lazzara, managing director at S&P, says, in many of the cities the index tracks, price increases have slowed. “We continue to see very strong growth at the city level,” Lazzara said. “As was the case last month, however, in 14 of 20 cities, prices decelerated – i.e., increased by less in October than they had done in September.” But while the rate of increases has slowed, prices are still rising at a double-digit pace. In fact, October’s gain was the fourth-highest reading in the 34 years S&P has been tracking price data. (source)
Home buyers faced a lot of competition this year. Elevated demand and fewer homes available for sale meant interested buyers had to be ready for a bidding war or risk losing a good house to a better prepared buyer. This was certainly true during the spring and summer markets. In fact, according to one measure, 74.6 percent of offers faced competition in April. Fortunately, though, that was the peak. And, as the summer market turned to fall, buyer competition began to slow. By October, the number of offers that saw competition from other buyers had fallen to 61.8 percent. From there, it fell even further. The most recent numbers available show the competition rate was 59.5 percent in November – the first time since December 2020 that it dropped below 60 percent. But while that’s a good indication that winter buyers will face less competition than earlier in the year, the rate in November was still up 2 percent from the year before. In other words, though the market isn’t as hot, buyers still need to be prepared, since competition remains high and most homes continue to draw multiple buyers. (source)
Fannie Mae’s Economic and Strategic Research Group releases a forecast each month covering their predictions for the economy and housing market. According to their most recent release, their outlook for full-year economic growth has been revised upward from last month’s projection. Their home-sales growth projection was also revised upward based on an expected end-of-year sales surge. But while the year-end forecasts were increasingly positive, the group sees challenges ahead in 2022. For one, they expect fewer home sales next year due to limited for-sale listings and growing affordability constraints. “According to the ESR Group, the impact of monetary policy tightening to combat inflation will combine with ongoing supply issues and still appreciating home prices to slow sales activity,” the release says. “While the economy picked up steam late in the year, unfortunately, so did inflation, and the market expects the Fed to recalibrate its monetary policy as a result.” Part of that is an expected mortgage rate increase. But while the Fed is likely to raise rates in 2022, they will still remain low by historical standards. (source)