Jeff Tucker is a senior economist on the economic research team at Zillow. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.
After 14 straight months of year-over-year home price growth reaching into the double digits, we’re finally starting to see the early signs of a cooling housing market.
Don’t worry. A crash isn’t coming. In fact, prices may not even fall. Rather, this will be a much-needed rebalancing from the unhealthy market conditions we see today. That is especially good news for first-time buyers.
It’s understandable that homeowners, in particular, might be worried about a potential housing market crash — 2008 is our most recent example of what can happen after an incredible run-up in home values. And we’ve never seen a market hotter than this one. The typical US home is worth nearly 21% more than it was just a year ago, a record that’s been reset each of the past 12 months. Homes have been selling in days rather than weeks. Inventory is 52% below where it would be in a normal spring.
But the underlying factors driving this housing market are dramatically different than in 2007. Homeowners generally are on solid financial footing and have significant equity. Buyers are purchasing homes they can afford, without resorting to risky, exotic financial products like they did before the last housing crash. Competition and overall demand remain incredibly resilient, and will continue to be, thanks to the huge share of millennials reaching peak home-buying age, and a decade of underbuilding that’s left us more than 1 million homes away from meeting demand. There are millions of stymied first-time buyers waiting in the wings for the opportunity to snap up a home when and if competition finally starts to let up.
Given these conditions, slowing price growth should be embraced, not feared. After all, as a consequence of these market dynamics, we have seen price growth that isn’t healthy or sustainable and is pricing more people out of homeownership.
First-time buyers, especially, are quickly losing ground — trying to scrape together a down payment large enough to compete with homeowners flush with equity, and with exploding rent prices eating larger holes in their paychecks each month.
Mortgage rates, which have hovered at record lows the past two years, recently passed 5%, pushing the monthly payment on a typical home up by almost 20% in just the past three months, and 38% more than it was a year ago.
While that might feel like adding insult to injury to home shoppers who are stretching their budgets and still losing out, there are early signs rising rates are helping to slow the market. Inventory just ticked up for the first time since August of last year, and if that trend continues, we might see it rising year-over-year by September. Further, annual home value growth should peak this spring, and could be closer to 10% than to 20% by next spring. That would provide buyers — especially first-time buyers — a bit of relief, even though double-digit home value growth is still incredibly high by historical standards.
The market will take years to rebalance from its pandemic trends. A panel of housing experts recently predicted it would be another year or two before inventory returns to pre-pandemic levels — when it was still considered to be very low.
So as that happens, and we see price growth begin to slow at some point this year, it’s important to recognize it for what it is: not a crash, but a move toward healthy, and a small step in mitigating our affordability crisis.
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