We don’t love to make outright predictions, but enough data has been released to suggest that home prices peaked nationally in June 2022, and we likely won’t see another peak this year. Of course, there will be deviations in local markets, but the larger trend is clear: Home prices cannot sustain the growth rate we’ve seen over the past two years.
The Fed provided huge incentives to buy homes as part of its easy monetary policy during the pandemic by purchasing Mortgage-Backed Securities (MBS) and dropping interest rates. MBS play an integral role in home financing by allowing banks to bundle and sell mortgage loans, thereby turning the bank into an intermediary between the financier and financial markets (investors). Banks get some fees, and investors, rather than the bank, get the interest from the bundle of mortgages, so in many ways, the bank facilitates the loan but investors are the ones really lending the buyer the money. The Fed was a huge investor in 2020 and 2021, doubling its MBS holdings to $2.7 trillion. However, the Fed isn’t buying any more MBS and, in fact, would like to sell — but can’t do so without taking huge losses. Additionally, mortgage rates have jumped dramatically in 2022, more than doubling, which shines a light on just how unique 2021 was for homebuying.
Last September, the average 30-year mortgage rate was 3.01%, meaning that a $500,000 loan would cost $2,100 per month. (That same loan now costs $3,200 per month at 6.70%.) Because the interest rate has such an outsized impact on the affordability of a home, more buyers entered the market, dropping inventory like never before. It was a great time to finance a home, and those buyers who had a down payment rightfully bought even as prices were increasing, since home prices typically continue to increase. This is actually a newer phenomenon, but one that isn’t going away. Since the mid-1990s, home prices began to move more like risk assets (stocks, bonds, commodities, etc.), which marked a huge change from the preceding 100 years. From 1890 to 1990, inflation-adjusted home prices rose only 12%, which is hard to imagine with the massive price growth, up 70% nationally, that we’ve seen over the past 10 years.
Demand for homes has declined over the past three months, which, besides the rate increase, is the seasonal norm. Because home sellers are often buying as they sell, new listings have dropped as well, causing inventory to decline. Inventory is still historically low and will be the one major buoy for home prices. The market has shifted to softening demand and softening supply. Mortgage applications are down 29% year-over-year according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. This, too, isn’t terribly surprising. Generally, homes aren’t bought and sold over and over in short time frames. The high number of sales in 2021 indicates fewer sales in 2022, especially because the buying incentives in 2021 are no longer in place. We can finally say that the market is cooling, but after the hottest two years since the mid-2000s, cooling indicates a healthier market.
The U.S. housing market has become more nuanced over the past several months and depends more than ever on the region. Some parts of the country are trending closer to balance, while some are moving deeper into a seller’s market. Take a look below at the Local Lowdown for in-depth coverage of your area. As always, we will continue to monitor the housing and economic markets to best guide you in buying or selling your home.
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