Matthew Gardner: What You Should Know About Today’s Real Estate Market

Understanding the housing market is a matter of analyzing its many data sets. In a recent piece for Inman News, Windermere Chief Economist Matthew Gardner offered his perspective on recent U.S. pending sales, new-home sales, and existing-home sales figures.

If you’re involved in the housing market, and I assume that most of you are, you know very well that this is a numbers business. All of us are surrounded by housing-related data day in and day out, and it can become a little overwhelming at times — even for an economist like myself.

Well, today I’d like to take a few minutes to talk about just a couple of the datasets that I think are particularly important to track and offer you my perspectives on them.

 

Housing

There’s no doubt that the ownership housing market really was a beacon of light as we moved through the pandemic period. Even though the market paused last spring as COVID-19 hit the nation, it snapped back remarkably quickly, unlike many other parts of the U.S. economy that are still suffering today.

This is important, as housing is a significant contributor to the broader economy. For example, last year, spending on the construction of new homes, residential remodeling and real estate brokers fees amounted to around $885 billion or 4.2 percent of gross domestic product.

But the real number is far greater than that when you add in all spending on all household services. The total amount of money spent on housing in aggregate was around $3.7 trillion or 17.5 percent of the country’s economy.

So, we know that the housing market is a very important part of our economy, but can that number continue to grow? Let’s take a look.

 

Inventory

The chart below shows the number of single-family homes for sale going back to 1983. As you can clearly see, there’s never been a time — at least since records were kept at the national level — where they were fewer homes for sale at any one time.

And this is a problem because the biggest issue the market faces today is that demand for homes is far exceeding supply.

A report I track very carefully — and I am sure that many of you do, too — is the National Association of Realtors pending home sales index, which is shown below.

Although it’s not a perfect indicator, as the survey only covers about 20 percent of all homes that go pending, it does give us a pretty good idea as to what the future may hold given that, all things being equal, about 80 percent of pending homes close within roughly two months, making it a leading indicator.

Line graph titled “Pending Home Sales Index” that shows the 12-month percentage change, seasonally adjusted. Along the x axis are months from January 2019 to March 2021. On the y axis is percentages from -40% to +30% with a line through the graph marking 0%. The line shows a significant decreased in April 2020 from 10% in February 2020 to -35% in April 2020, then a quick recover peaking around 25% in August 2020. Source NAR.

You can clearly see the massive pull back last spring because of the pandemic, but this was very quickly followed by a very significant surge.

It pulled back again last winter, but I would suggest that this was more a function of lack of homes for sale than anything else. However, look at the March spike.

Now, you might be thinking that this is a great number, but I would caution all of you not to pay too much attention to year-over-year changes, as they can be deceiving. You see, the index jumped because it was being compared with last March when the pandemic really started.

 

Closed sales

When we look at closed sales activity, it actually lines up pretty well with the pending home sales index, which fell in January and February. This is reflected in the contraction in closed sales that we saw this spring. And if the index is accurate, it suggests we may see closed sales activity pick up again over the next couple of months.

Line graph titled “Existing Home Sales” in millions seasonally adjusted. Along the x axis is months from January 2021 and April 2021. On the Y axis is numbers between 3.0 and 7.0, increasing by half points. The line shows a sharp decrease in April 2020 and a quick recover with a peak at 6.7 in October 2020. Source is NAR.

Of course, any time where housing demand exceeds supply, there is a solution — and that would be to build more homes.

But as you can see here, though more homes started to be built as we emerged from the financial crisis, the number today is essentially the same as it was two decades ago and has been declining for the past two years.

Two line graphs next to each other, the slide is titled “New Homes for Sale” on the left is Single Family New Homes for Sale in the US in thousands, seasonally adjusted. Along the x axis is years from 2000 to 2020 and on the y axis is numbers from 0 to 700 in increments of 100. This graph shows a peak between 2006 and 2008 just under 600, with a sharp decline after that, the lowest point in 2021. With some recover, the line peaks again in 2020 just above 300. On the right is New Homes for Sale by Stage of Construction. The light blue line is not-started, the green line is completed, and the navy blue line is under construction. Not-started is consistently the lowest number between 2000 and 2018, but in 2019 it rises above the green line. The navy blue line is consistently on the top of the graph, which a small dip that goes below the green line in 2009. Source: Census Bureau.

That’s significant, as the country has added over 12 million new households during the same period which has further fueled demand for housing. If there are no new homes to buy, well, that does one thing — and that’s to put more focus on the resale market, which has already led to very significant price increases.

 

New home market

But this particular report also offers some additional data sets, which I think give more clarity to the state of the new home market.

Before the housing market crashed, you can see that a majority of new homes that were on the market for sale were being built at that time, but — as the housing bubble was bursting — the market dropped, and the share of homes that were finished and for sale naturally rose.

But what I want you to look at is the far right of the chart above. You see the spike in the share of homes for sale that have not yet been started?

Well, given the massive increase in construction costs builders have, understandably, become far more cautious and are trying to sell more homes before they start to build them to mitigate some of the risk. It also tells me that they see demand that is not being met by the existing-home market and are looking to take it advantage of this.

When we look at new home sales, you can see that the trend, in essence, follows the number of homes for sale, but I would caution you on a couple of things.

Two graphs side by side, the slide is titled “New Home Sales” on the left is a line graph of us single family new home sales in thousands. On the x axis is dates from 2006 to 2020 and on the y axis is numbers from 0 to 1,600 in increments of 200. The line shows the peak in 2006 at 1,400 with a sharp decline afterwards until it bottoms out in 2010 at around 200. From there there’s a slow recover, with a peak in 2021 at around 1,000. On the right is a clustered column graph titled New Homes Sold by Stage of Construction. The green bars represent not started, the light blue columns represent under construction, and orange shows the completed projects. On the x axis is months from January 2020 to April 2021 and on the y axis I percentages from 20% to 45% in 5% increments. From Jan 2020 to July 2020 the orange bars representing completed are the highest bars, but from August 2020 to March 2021, the blue bars are the highest showing that homes under construction were the most common new homes purchased. Source: Census Bureau.

Firstly, these figures do not represent closed sales, as the Census Bureau, which prepares this dataset, considers a home sold once it has gone under contract. This makes sense, as a home can be sold before it has even broken ground. In essence, it’s more similar to NAR’s Pending Home Sales Index than anything else.

Look now at sales by stage of construction on the right. You can see that, as the pandemic was getting started, new homes that were ready to move into were what buyers wanted, and that accounted for over 42 percent of total new sales in April.

As the supply of finished homes dropped, homes that were being built took the lion’s share of sales — as they have done historically. However, look at April. The greatest share of sales — 37.7 percent — were homes that hadn’t yet been started.

Again, this supports the theory that builders remain cautious given ever-escalating costs, but it also shows that buyers’ needs are not being met by the resale market, so they were willing to wait, likely a considerable time, for their new home to be built.

Of course, the couple of datasets I’ve shared with you today are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the housing-related numbers you should all be tracking, as they can tell a story that can impact everyone involved in the development or sale of homes.

Mortgage rates

In addition to the data we have discussed today, you should be well versed in mortgage rate trends, demographic shifts, building permit activity and the economy in general — and you need to understand all these numbers at a local as well as national level.

For the vast majority of households, buying a home will be the most expensive thing that they will ever purchase in their lives. And given memories of the housing crash, as well as the significant increase in home prices that we’ve seen since last summer, it’s now more important than ever for you to be able to share your knowledge with your clients and be able to advise them accordingly.

 

Windermere’s Chief Economist, Matthew Gardner, often contributes to local and national publications with his insights to the housing market. Recently he offered his analysis of home sales numbers to Inman News, this is a repost of that video and article

For more market news and updates from Matthew Gardner,

visit our Market Update page.

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Matthew Gardner Op-Ed: Why fears of a housing bubble are wildly overblown

This op-ed by Matthew Gardner was a part of a series on Inman News featuring views from housing experts about the potential for a 2021 housing bubble.

 

On face value, I can certainly see why some are worried about how much home prices have been escalating — not just during the pandemic period, but since housing prices started recovering back in 2012.

 

Home price growth has been outpacing wage growth for a long time, with median prices up more than 113 percent since January 2012, while wages have only risen by a far more modest 30 percent.

Moreover, in 2020, prices increased by more than 9 percent and were up by a record-breaking 17.2 percent between March of 2020 and March 2021. As a result, mumblings of the imminent bursting of a new housing “bubble” are now being heard far and wide across the US.

 

I’d like to start off by addressing those who believe impending doom is on the horizon. I am afraid I have some bad news; it’s not going to happen.

While it’s easy to argue that such a rapid increase in home prices is sure to end badly — as it did in 2008 and 2009 — you would be wrong to conflate these two time periods. Today’s housing market is markedly different from the one we saw back in the 2000s.

 

Allow me to explain why.

For more than six years, we have suffered from a woeful lack of homes to buy in the U.S., while simultaneously adding almost 10 million new households. Obviously, not every new household translated into a new homeowner, but given demographic growth and the ongoing shortage of inventory, it was enough to tip the scale between supply and demand, resulting in rapidly rising home values.

So, why are there so few homes for sale?

This is probably one of the questions I get asked most. The first reason is that Americans aren’t moving as often as they used to, which limits supply. In the early 2000s, we used to move an average of every four years, but the number today is over eight years. If there is less turnover of homes, supply remains scarce, and prices rise.

The next thing we need to consider is the new construction market, which has the ability to equalize supply with demand when enough homes are being built. But in recent years, the number of newly built homes has tracked well below the levels needed to help create a balanced market.

Furthermore, the ongoing escalating cost of building materials has led to higher priced homes being built, which doesn’t fulfill the lower end of the market where there is the greatest demand.

 

So far, the scenarios described above are entirely opposite to those of the late 2000s, but there are several other reasons why we are in a very different place today compared to the pre-bubble days.

Much like the current market, demand for housing in the 2000s was very strong, but a major difference between the two markets is that much of the demand back then wasn’t actually real — and certainly not sustainable.

Renters were becoming homeowners in record numbers, and people were snapping up investment properties who, quite frankly, should never have been allowed to. Lending policies were so lax that qualifying for a home was far too easy, which ended up being the principal reason why we saw a housing bubble form and subsequently burst.

Without a doubt, the lack of credit quality is the most significant difference between today’s market and that of the 2000s but gone are the days of “low-doc” or “no-doc” loans that allowed buyers to essentially make up their income to qualify for a mortgage.

 

Instead, according to Ellie Mae, what we saw in 2020 was 70 percent of mortgage originations going to borrowers with proven FICO scores above 760, and the average credit score over the past five years was a very high 754.

Although sub-prime borrowing still exists — and there is a rational place for it — the share of borrowers with a credit score below 620 was just 2 percent last year. For comparison purposes, it was 13 percent in 2007.

It’s also worth pointing out that back in 2004, a full 35 percent of mortgages were ARMs, or so-called “teaser loans.” When the rate reverted on these loans, it forced many homeowners into foreclosure because they could no longer afford the monthly payment. Fast forward to today, the share of ARMs in March of 2021 was just 2.4 percent.

 

Finally, I like to look at mortgage credit availability, and the Mortgage Bankers Association has some very rich data on this. The MBA’s index, which is calculated using several factors related to borrower eligibility (credit score, loan type, loan-to-value ratio, etc.), acts as a very useful bellwether when it comes to the health of the housing market.

Although the index has been rising since last fall (suggesting more freely available credit), it is still 85 percent below where it was in 2006, suggesting that lenders remain cautious.

The bottom line is that credit quality and down payments are far higher today than they were in the pre-bubble days, and mortgage credit supply remains very tight relative to where it was before the collapse of the housing market.

 

So far, I am not seeing a correlation with the “bad old days” — are you?

It’s irrefutable that home prices have been increasing at well above average rates for several years now, and that is cause for concern, but not because of any impending bubble. Rather, what concerns me is the impact rising prices is having on housing affordability.

Current homeowners are in good shape and, according to the most recent Federal Reserve Financial Accounts of the U.S. report, are currently sitting on over $21 trillion in equity.

 

Furthermore, the latest data from Attom Data Solutions indicates that over 30 percent of homeowners had at least 50 percent equity in their homes at the end of last year. But this doesn’t help first-time buyers who are so critical to the long-term health of the housing market.

Keep in mind, there is a wave of first-time buyers coming; over the next two years, 9.6 million millennials will turn 30, and Gen Z is close on their heels. Given where prices are today, the question should be: Where will they be able to afford to buy?

This, in my opinion, is a far bigger issue than any mythical bubble bursting.

 

To find this and the other pieces in the series, click here.

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4/29/2021 Housing and Economic Update from Matthew Gardner

This video is the latest in our Monday with Matthew series with Windermere Chief Economist Matthew Gardner. Each month, he analyzes the most up-to-date U.S. housing data to keep you well-informed about what’s going on in the real estate market.  

 

Hello there and welcome to the April edition of Mondays with Matthew. I’m Windermere Real Estate’s Chief Economist, Matthew Gardner

There were a lot of rich, housing-related datasets released this month so let’s get going.

And first up, I want to look at mortgage applications.

Source: MBA

You may remember last month we discussed what was going on with mortgage rates as they had started to trend higher beginning in the New Year. Well, as rates rose, you can see here that mortgage applications slowed before picking back up in at the end of February, which was interesting as rates were still rising at that time.

And for those who find it curious that applications picked up even as rates were rising, well it was partly because buyers started to believe that rates would not be headed back down, and they wanted to get locked in for fear that they would continue trending higher.

Now, this pattern did reverse at the end of March as rising rates started to take a toll on would be buyers and affordability issues started to come more into play, but as mortgage rates pulled back in April, applications picked up again – albeit modestly.

Next to the Mortgage purchase graph, on the right we see the weekly mortgage purchase index which looks at the year over year data. Here we see that since this time last year, there are 58.2 percent more mortgage applications.

Source: MBA

But when we take a look at the data on a year-over-year basis.  Well, WOW!

Applications were up by over 58%! But remember what happened in March of last year? Who can forget….?

And its therefore really not surprising to see this kind of spike, but, I would caution you all that almost any dataset that compares current numbers to those seen a year ago – well, they are likely to paint far too rosy a picture, and one that is removed from reality.

Something to be aware of.

 

Next up, we got several datasets regarding the new home market March and we will start off with permits and starts.

Two line graphs next to each other. The one on the left shows the single family building permits from January 2019 to March 2021. Overall the trend is upward, with a large dip from March to May 2021, but they soon recover as if that dip never happened. From January to March 2021 there was another small dip, but there’s already proof of improvement back from that. On the right, the graph shows the single family home starts, again overall starts have increased since January 2019 to March 2021, with a few peaks and valleys in between, included a recent dip from November 2020 to February 2021, but they’re back on the rise since then.

Source: Census Bureau

Following the pullback in permit applications that was seen in February, builders were more optimistic in March with single family permits up by 4.6% on the month and 35.6% higher than a year ago – but don’t forget what we just said about year over year data!

Looking at housing starts – well they pulled back in January and February, but also saw a solid 15% monthly increase in March.

Interestingly, there was a massive spike in starts in the mid-west where they were up by 109% month-over-month, but they were actually down by over 12% out here in the west.

I would also let you know that the number of homes under construction rose by 1.6% versus February and this was particularly pleasing given that construction costs remain very elevated.

And it hasn’t just been material costs that have been hitting home builders, they have also seen significant pressures with labor costs and here’s why…

One line graph to the left, with space to the right for another. Data shows total employment in construction from January 2010 to February 2021. Overall trend shows constant growth since 2012, with a sharp dip in 2020 from the pandemic.

Source: BLS

This chart shows how many people are employed in the construction of single-family homes and, at face value, it looks pretty good with constant growth seen since 2012 – of course, ignoring the impact of the pandemic but….

On the same slide as the total employment in construction, to the right of that graph there’s total employment in Construction from January 2000 to January 2021, which shows an overall trend of decrease in jobs. A peak in 2006 soon falls to a very low valley in 2012.

Source: BLS

Looking at a longer timeline, it doesn’t paint as good a picture. At its peak in 2006, there were almost 650,000 people employed building homes, but the number today is just 60% of that.

Of course, there are fewer homes being started today than there were back in those halcyon days but starts today aren’t 40% lower, so the job market remains tight. In fact, there are over 260,000 job openings in the construction sector. Of course, not all of them are for the single-family construction market, but we do know that builder’s cost of labor is rising and that, in concert with higher land and material costs continue to impact builder’s ability to bring homes to market that are relatively affordable as the increase in costs is transferred directly into the price that a home must sell for and that brings me to data on new home listings, sales and prices in March.

Two graphs side by side, on the left is a line graph showing the Single Family New Homes for Sale in the US. This graph shows an overall trend of decrease in new homes for sale from 2019, but increased since the lowest point in the fall of 2020. On the right is a bar graph showing the houses for sale by stage of construction. The grey line represents “not started,” light blue represents “Under construction,” and navy represents “completed.” The light blue lines showing under construction are constantly the highest bars hovering between 150,000 and 200,000.

Source: Census Bureau

Even with new housing permits and starts rising significantly the seasonally adjusted estimate of new houses for sale at the end of March was 307,000. This represents a supply of 3.6 months at the current sales rate.

The number of new homes for sale was down by 7% from a year ago, but I do expect that the increase in permits and starts bodes well for this arena, and I do expect to see more listings come online over time.

If you look at the chart to the right, you will notice that the number of homes for sale that have yet to be started continues to rise. This is because builders want some certainty that the home will be sold, and it’s, therefore, easier to sell before you build it.

Source: Census Bureau

And when we look at sales, well they rise by 20.7% in March to an annual rate of over 1 million units and clearly rebounded from the previous month when we saw a massive drop as severe winter storms wreaked havoc across much of the country.

Interestingly, you will see that as many homes sold that hadn’t yet started as were under construction. Clearly, demand is robust to the degree that buyers willing to commit to buying a home that hasn’t yet been built.

The median new home sale price came in at $330,800 – that’s down by 4.4% on the month but 0.8% higher than a year ago.

Source: NAR

OK – now we have covered the new home market, let’s take a look at how the resale market fared in March.

The number of homes for sale remains at almost historically low levels with marginally more than 1 million units on the market. Now there maybe some of you out there who say that is inaccurate as NAR is reporting 1.07 million homes for sale, and you’d be absolutely correct.  But I have adjusted the data to account for seasonality, so it is slightly different.

Anyway, with such limited choice across the country, it wasn’t a surprise to see sales pulling back, with the total number of closings running at an annual rate of 6 million units – that’s down by 3.7% month over month, and down by 12.3% when compared to March of 2020.

Am I worried about this? No, I am not. Why? Well, as I just mentioned, just look at the inventory numbers.  With little choice, it’s not at all surprising to see sales pull back but I would add that the market still hit 6 million transactions and that was in the face of the increase in mortgage rates that we saw last month so, to tell you the truth, I was actually a little surprised to see that the number held above that 6 million level.

Source: NAR

But even as sales pulled back a little, prices didn’t, and more records were broken with the median sale price hitting an all-time high, and year-over-year price growth above 17% was another record shattered.

Source: NAR

And if you need further proof that there is little to be concerned about when it comes to sales pulling back, you only need to look at these charts.  Low supply, but still very robust demand has months of supply at levels that indicate a highly unbalanced market. Nationally, I like to see somewhere between 4 and 6 months of supply, not 2.1…

But look at the right. For every offer accepted in March, there were 3.8 additional offers, and I would also tell you that the average length of time it took to sell a home in March was just 18 days and that’s down by one day from February but down by eleven days when compared to a year ago.

Surely if demand was waning, wouldn’t the number of offers be going down, and days on market going up?

Source: NAR with Windermere Economics seasonal adjustments

And when we separate out the single-family market, you can see that listings notched very slightly higher – up by 1.2%, but the level is still close to an all-time low with listings down by over 31% year over year.

As far as sales are concerned, well they also pulled back a little and were down by 1.3% versus February but were 14% higher year over year.

Source: NAR

And as we discussed earlier, even with lower sales activity, sale prices are still rising at a very rapid pace and are now over 18% higher than seen a year ago and a remarkable 6.2% higher than seen in February.

The median price also broke above $330,000 for the first time.

Source: NAR with Windermere Economics Seasonal Adjustments

Moving on to the condominium market, we saw listings rise as the pandemic took hold, and there were concerns back then that we were at the start of a systemic increase in listings with people fleeing cities over fears of COVID-19, as well as the ability to work remotely, but the increase soon wore off, even if it rise by 9% in March when compared to February, but there were 5.1% fewer listings than seen a year ago.

But on the sales front – and with listings rising – we saw demand for those homes with sales up by 5% versus February and 36.4% higher than seen in March of 2020.

Source: NAR

In a similar fashion to single-family prices, sale prices for condominium units saw a spike in price in March and were up by 4.9% versus February and almost 10% higher than seen a year ago.

Although you will see that annual sale price growth did turn negative last May – due to COVID – it is actually rare to see this. We did see a tiny drop back in 2018 but you will likely remember that mortgage rates were rising then and knocking on the door of 5%.

Anyway, since last May, sale prices have picked back up very nicely and worries of any significant drop in condo prices appears to be overblown.

As far as the ownership market is concerned, I am far less worried that mortgage rates have been ticking higher than I am that there are just not enough homes for sale to meet demand.

We had seen some growth in the new construction arena – and that took just a tiny bit of heat off the resale arena – but demand continues to exceed supply, and that is pushing prices higher and affordability issues have already started to appear in several markets across the country.

At some point, we will see price growth slow, but I think that it will be far more to do with affordability limitations than it will rising mortgage rates.

So, there you have it. My thoughts on the housing market in March.

As always, if you have any questions or comments about the numbers, we have looked at today, feel free to reach out. I would love to hear from you.

In the meantime, thank you for watching, stay safe out there, and I look forward to visiting with you again, next month.

Bye now.

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Matthew Gardner COVID-19 Housing & Economic Update: 01/25/2021

 

Hello there and welcome to the first Mondays with Matthew for 2021. It’s great to be back and I hope that you all had a fantastic holiday season and are getting into the new year groove.

Well, there’s a lot of data releases to talk about today so let’s get to it. First up is the latest National Association of Homebuilders report on builder confidence.

 

 

The index slipped to 83 from 86 but, for context, any reading above 50 means more builders view market conditions as favorable than poor.

Now, as you can see, following a very impressive recovery following the start of the pandemic, U.S. homebuilder confidence has trended lower for the past 2-months but, to tell you the truth, I really wasn’t surprised to see this.

Why wasn’t I surprised?

Well, its actually rather simple. Surging COVID-19 infections in concert with increasing material costs offset record low mortgage rates.

Builders are still grappling with supply-side constraints related to not just material costs, but a lack of affordable lots on which to build, and labor shortages that are all putting upward pressure on new home prices.

It’s very frustrating for builders these days as they see very significant demand for housing – driven by cheaper mortgages as well as an exodus from city centers to the suburbs and other low-density areas as companies allow employees to work from home because of the pandemic.

Oh! Talking of work-from-home, I did see a number put out by the Census Bureau in their Household Pulse Survey that suggested that about 38% of the labor force is now working at least part-time from home. That’s a massive number.

 

A line graph from the National Association of Home Builders showing the component trends in the U.S. Housing Market over the past two years.

 

Anyway, all of the component parts of the survey trended lower with the measure of sales expectations in the next six months falling two points to 83, the gauge of current sales conditions also dropping two points to 90, and the prospective buyers index falling by five points to 68.

I am not worried by this as, even at these levels, builders are still pretty bullish about the market, and I say this because of the next dataset I’m going to talk about – the housing permit and starts report.

 

A line graph showing the number of single-family home builder permits over the past two years.

 

Even if builders were suffering from worries regarding costs. Oh! I should add that their biggest issue as far as material costs are concerned are that lumber prices have risen by 52% versus a year ago!  Anyway, this increase in cost, as well as the other issues that we have just talked about didn’t translate into slowing activity when it came to permits and starts which both surged in December.

This chart shows the number of single-family permits issued across the country and the figure rose by 7.8% between November and December to an annual rate of 1.226 million units. That’s 30.4% higher than seen a year ago. And the fastest rate seen since 2007.

 

A line graph showing the number of single-family home starts over the past two years.

 

And looking now at housing starts, well they impressed too with a 12% month over month gain to an annual rate of 1.338 million units – and that’s 27.8% higher than a year ago.

I would also note that single-family starts have increased for eight straight months now. And – given the data that we have just looked at – it’s not surprising to see a very significant jump in the number of homes under construction.

 

A line graph showing the number of single family homes under construction over the past two years.

 

Now, in case you are a little confused by terminology, I should let you know that housing starts don’t actually relate to the number of homes being built. Starts refer to lots where a foundation has been poured, but it doesn’t mean that vertical construction has commenced.  For that we need to look at the under-construction data shown here.

And the number is pleasing.  In fact, the current level of ground-up construction is at its highest level since 2007.

The bottom line is that I expect to see the number of starts and homes under construction continue to rise, and new supply of homes is likely to take some of the upward price pressures off the resale market.

In fact, my current forecast is for new home sales to rise this year to about 988,000 units.

And talking of the resale market, I know that you have all been waiting for the December existing home sales numbers and they were released last Friday.

 

A line graph showing the inventory of home for sale in the U.S. over the past two years.

 

Before we get to the good stuff, I want to start with inventory – or lack of it!

Without seasonal adjustment, the number of homes for sale in December stood at just 1.07 million homes – and that’s down 23% year over year.

For perspective, that is the lowest number of homes on record and, at the current sales place, that represents a 1.9-month supply and that’s the lowest number seen since the National Association of Realtors began tracking this metric back in 1982.

So – we know that there is nothing to buy, but what’s happening to sales?

Look at this! Pandemic-driven demand for housing sent total 2020 home sales to the highest level since 2006.

 

A line graph showing the number of existing home sales in the U.S. over the past two years.

 

Closed sales of existing homes in December increased just 0.7% from November to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 6.76 million units and sales were 22% higher than seen in December of 2019.

As unexpected as a global pandemic was, so too was the reaction of homebuyers. After plummeting in March and April, sales suddenly began to climb.

Total year-end sales volume ended at 5.64 million units, and that was a number far higher than I – or anyone – was predicting before the pandemic started.

COVID-19 drove buyers desire for larger, suburban homes with dedicated spaces not just for working but for schooling as well.

And I will tell you that, in my opinion, sales could have been even higher if there were just more homes to buy! I wouldn’t have been surprised, again, if we had no inventory constraints – to have seen over 7 million sales occurring last year and that would have matched the all-time high seen in 2005.

But of course, there is a price to pay when you have so much demand, and so little supply.

That’s right.  Prices go up!

 

A bar graph showing the median sale price of existing homes in the U.S. over the past two years.

 

Low supply and very strong demand continued to heat home prices with the median price of an existing home sold in December coming in at $309,800, that’s a 12.9% increase when compared with December 2019 and the highest December median price on record. I would also add that this price is only marginally below the all-time high that was seen last October.

The surge in prices really has been quite remarkable, but I am not too surprised.  Yes, demand has risen significantly, and supply has not, but much of the growth was driven by mortgage rates that have dropped precipitously since the pandemic started and are over a full percentage point lower now than they were a year ago.

I would add that part of the reason we say such a sharp increase in price is that home sales were actually very strong at the high end of the market, where there are more homes for sale.

Sales of homes in the US priced below $100,000 were down 15% annually in December, while sales of homes priced between $500,000 and $750,000 were up 65% year over year, and sales of million-dollar-plus homes were up by a whopping 94% from a year ago.

A lot of the growth in the luxury market can also be attributed to mortgage rates with jumbo rates – that spiked with the pandemic – dropping significantly and this has led sales higher.

Breaking out the single-family market from condos, sales leapt in the early summer but leveled off in the fall because of – you guessed it – a lack of homes for sale and not a lack of demand.

 

A line graph showing single family home sales and a bar graph showing median price of single-family home sales in the U.S. over the past two years.

 

In 2020, sales of single-family homes rose by 6.3% – a massive number that’s even more impressive given the fact that sales only rose by 0.5% in 2019.

And prices were, naturally on the rise too – increasing by 9.2% last year, and that’s the fastest rate we have seen since 2013, and that was when we were starting to recover from the housing bubble that burst causing home prices to collapse value buyers jumped in causing prices to rise significantly.

Looking now at condos, we see a somewhat similar picture with the annual rate of sales coming in at over 700,000 units but, interestingly, 2020 total condo sales were actually 0.3% lower than we saw in 2019.

 

A line graph showing condo and co-op sales in the U.S. and a bar graph showing their median sales price.

 

What is happening here is a drop in demand for urban multifamily units with buyers able to work remotely. And this is also reflected by lower price growth than we saw in the single-family market.

As we move forward, I am still positive about the multifamily arena, but we are already seeing softening in demand and price in some market across the nation and here I am directly referring to San Francisco here in the West, and New York and Boston back East.

In as much as we will continuing to see short-term demand and price issues in many urban markets, it doesn’t mean that the overall condo market is going to collapse.

In fact, I think that once we get back to “normal” we may well see demand increase again and, if we see prices start to drop, I expect demand to rise even further as buyers who had previously been priced out of many of these large cities see that they can now afford to buy.

So, there you have it. My take on the January housing related data releases.

As always, if you have any questions or comments about the topics I have discussed today, feel free to reach out – I am only an e-mail away!

In the meantime, thank you for watching, stay safe out there, and I look forward to visiting with you again, next month.

Bye now.

The post Matthew Gardner COVID-19 Housing & Economic Update: 01/25/2021 appeared first on Windermere Real Estate.

Matthew Gardner COVID-19 Housing & Economic Update: 12/7/2020

 

Hello and welcome to this rather special episode of Mondays with Matthew. I’m Windermere Real Estate’s Chief Economist, Matthew Gardner.

 

Now, if you wonder what’s special about this particular episode, well the answer is twofold.

 

Firstly, I started these videos at the onset of the COVID-19 epidemic back in March and this is the 35th episode of Mondays with Matthew – where has the time gone?  Anyway, it will be the last one for this year and I wanted to take just a moment to thank all of you for taking time out of your busy schedules to watch my videos. It makes this economist very happy to think that you are still getting value out of my musings.

 

But there’s another reason that I am excited and it’s because, after many, many late nights poring over spreadsheets, I am now ready to share my 2021 US housing forecast with you so, without further ado, let’s get to it!

 

 

I’m starting off with my mortgage rate forecast.

 

As you will all be very aware, we have spent the entire year watching mortgage rates break record lows almost every week which, along with other factors, has helped drive housing demand significantly higher, but how low can rates go?

 

Well, my forecast suggests that rates will likely bottom out in the current quarter but that said, I do not anticipate them rising much as we move through 2021.

 

Economists' Forecasts are in a Fairly Tight Range

 

Now, I always like to see how my forecasts compare to others, so I spoke with a few housing economists across the country to see where they were regarding rates, and – as you can see – we are all in a pretty tight range for next year. I will tell you that my friends over at Fannie Mae were pretty defensive about their very optimistic forecast – I guess that we will see.

 

And looking further out – where my crystal ball fogs over just a little – the brave souls who are putting out forecasts for 2022 are showing rates not moving much higher even then, with Fannie Mae at an average of 2.9%, Wells Fargo at 3.1% and the Mortgage Bankers Association a little higher at 3.6%.

 

The bottom line here is that we are all pretty confident that although rates will start to rise, the increase will be modest, and I personally don’t see it impacting housing demand at all.

 

Yields Should Rise Next Year

 

And to explain why we will see rates rise, 30-year fixed-rate mortgages are pretty directly correlated with the yield on 10-year treasuries, and you can see here that my forecast shows these rising – albeit modestly – next year and, naturally if this occurs, rates will follow.

 

But there are 2 reasons that might stop rates rising – at least by too much, even if Treasury yields do head higher.  First is the COVID-19 vaccine. You see, if it takes longer to distribute, or if we chose not to take it, then the economy could take another dip and, if that happens, treasury yields will likely pull back, and rates could drop again. But I remain hopeful that this will not be the case.

 

And second is the Fed.  As long as they continue to buy mortgage-backed securities, rates are actually insulated from rising treasury yields.

 

Home Sales Will Grow Significantly Next Year

 

OK – on to sales, and here I am specifically looking at existing homes – I will address new homes shortly.

 

My forecast is for sales this year to have risen by 3.9%, but sales in 2021 should be up by 6.9%, and that’s a level we haven’t seen since 2006.

 

But in order for sales to rise to this extent, we need more inventory, and I do expect to see more listings next year and it will likely be, at least partially, due to COVID-19 with some household’s new ability to work from home removing the need to live close to their offices.  But there will be others who will move simply because their current homes just aren’t set up for remote working.

 

Although I see a lot of homeowners moving due to work-from-home I believe that a lot of them will not move that far away.  You see, the theory that we will all be working from home full-time is – in my opinion – likely overblown – and I would contend that a lot of them will end up blending their workweek with some days at home and some days at their offices and, if I am correct, I see many households still staying within reasonable proximity of their workplaces.

 

Prices Will Also Rise - But at a Slower Rate

 

Turning our attention now to sale prices, well this year has been very impressive so far and we should see sale prices in 2020 ending up 7.4% higher than we saw in 2019. Now, this is quite remarkable, and I say this because I took a look at the 2020 forecast, I put out last year and I was forecasting price growth closer to 4% than 7%.

 

But COVID-19 changed all that.  Mortgage rates dropped, households decided for several reasons to move and, in concert with a historically low level of homes available to buy, prices have risen significantly.

 

Now – and as I have said for years – there must always be a relationship between incomes and home prices, and mortgage rates dropping can only allow prices to rise by so much.

 

And, along with other factors, it’s partly due to affordability issues that I see prices rising by a more modest 4.1% in 2021.

 

New Home Starts Will Also Grow

 

OK – looking now at the new home market – and for the purposes of this discussion I am just looking at the single-family market – so far this year we have seen a significant jump in new home sales and this very robust demand has encouraged builders to start construction of more homes and my forecast for single-family housing starts shows them rising by 8% this year, but next year I’m seeing starts up by a very significant 16.4%.

 

This is good news for several reasons, the biggest of which is that more new construction will add to supply and that should take some of the demand and price pressure off the resale market.

 

New Home Sales Will Jump Next Year

 

And with more starts, I expect to see sales rising with an increase of 21.5% this year and a further 18.7% in 2021. Notably, this will put new home sales at a level again that we haven’t seen since 2006.

 

But I do have one concern regarding the new home market, and my worry is all about cost.

 

Builders want to do what they do best, and that’s build homes, but they have to reconcile the costs to build a home, which are extremely high today, with the prices that would-be buyers can afford.

 

Now I see them managing this issue by looking to areas where land is cheaper and where there is still demand from buyers who, as we just talked about, are now looking at markets further away from major job centers.

 

The bottom line is that the new construction market will see very solid gains next year.

 

And finally, it would be remiss of me if I weren’t to address the one thing that is troubling a lot of brokers – and their clients –and that’s forbearance.

 

Homes in Forbearance are Significant, But Don't Worry Me

 

Although we saw a modest uptick in active forbearance plans earlier last month, I think it’s important to put things in perspective.

 

Despite small increases in the number of homes we saw entering the program, the number of active forbearances is still down by 8% (or 246,000 homes) from the end of October.

 

In total, as of November 30, there are 2.76 million homeowners in active forbearance plans and that represents approximately 5.2% of all mortgages but again, for perspective, the number of owners in forbearance is down by almost 2 million from the peak back in May – that’s a drop of 42%.

 

So, let’s talk about this for a bit.

 

As is human nature, there are some out there predicting that the housing market is going to crash again purely because of the number of owners in forbearance – all 2.76 million of them –will be foreclosed on when forbearance ends next spring, and this flood of foreclosed homes will lead to a spike in supply and this will lead prices to drop in a manner similar to 2008.

 

I get the theory, and I guess that at face value you might say that it seems plausible, but is it?

 

Although there’s no getting around the fact that foreclosures will rise next year as forbearance terms end, will it really be that dramatic?I think not.

 

There are several reasons why I’m not overly pessimistic about this. Although I see foreclosures rising next year, I actually expect the numbers to be very mild when compared to the carnage we saw between 2008 and 2010.

 

Why do I think this? Well, the housing bubble burst for very different reasons than we are currently experiencing. Back then there was a frenzy of reckless lending, irresponsible borrowing, and the unbridled speculation that did nothing more than set the housing market up for a crash. And crash it did. Home prices collapsed, and millions lost their homes.

 

But, back in March of this year – when COVID-19 really kicked in – homeowners were actually in a very good place.  Credit standards were still very tight, down payments were significant, and the housing market, along with the economy as a whole, was extremely healthy and that’s the difference.

 

The COVID-19 pandemic has primarily hit renters, but it has impacted a lot of homeowners too and, as much as I am very sorry to say that we will see a rise in mortgage defaults and foreclosures but as the housing market muscles its way through the current economic downturn, I see foreclosures forming more of a trickle rather than a flood.

 

And, to support this, my colleagues over at ATTOM Data Solutions are currently forecasting more than 200,000 homeowners are likely to default next year but, if there is a longer-term Coronavirus related slowdown in the economy, the foreclosure count could get as high as 500,000 homes.

 

But as dramatic as their projections may seem, it’s worth noting a few things.

 

One. During the Great Recession, foreclosure filings spiked with 1.65 million American homes going into foreclosure in the first half of 2010, but this is well above the most pessimistic forecasts for foreclosures next year and even if defaults rise dramatically, they’ll still come in well below the levels we saw following the bursting of the housing bubble.

 

Two.  As I talked about earlier, home prices have risen steadily since 2012 and homeowners have built up large reserves of equity. This is the total opposite of the situation we saw in 2008.

 

And it’s because home values have been rising, a lot of borrowers in forbearance will be able to escape foreclosure by simply selling – we know that there is more than enough demand and they will sell to make sure that they get the equity out of their homes rather than to potentially lose it because of foreclosure.

 

Third. Lenders really have no stomach for a repeat of the foreclosure crisis we saw back in 2008.

 

Today, I am seeing lenders positioning themselves to use a more-cooperative, less-punitive approach to delinquent borrowers and that they will do a better job of keeping people in homes.

 

And finally.  Many, but not all, of the owners in forbearance, will not enter foreclosure because they will be able to catch up on their past-due amounts by paying more each month and some may be allowed to add the past-due amount to the end of the mortgage by lengthening its term.

 

The bottom line is that the housing market, and homeowners, are in a much better position today than they were back in the bubble days. Homeowners today have far more options to avoid foreclosure, and equity is surely helping to keep many afloat. Put it this way, even if today’s rate of foreclosures doubles, it will still only hit a mark that’s more in line with a historically normalized range.

 

Ultimately, I’m not concerned that we will see the housing market collapse because of forbearance.

 

And finally, a few more nuggets to think about.

 

Even if we ignore concerns over forbearance, there are still some talking about a housing bubble purely because prices have risen so rapidly over the past several years but I, along with my colleagues, just don’t see it.  It is true that prices have been rising at above-average rates, but fundamentals are still in place.  As I mentioned earlier, borrowers are well qualified, and they have solid equity in their homes.

 

But, as I have shown you, price growth is set to slow and I think that, because of this slowdown in price increases, there will surely be some homeowners who will think that the market has collapsed just because real estate agents aren’t telling them what they want to hear as far as the value of their home is concerned. What they need to understand is that the market isn’t collapsing, it’s just normalizing.

 

Sellers have had the upper hand for a very long time now, and many may have forgotten what a normal housing market looks like.

 

In the early days of the pandemic, it is true that buyers did gravitate toward the suburbs and I know this because 57% of buyers who bought between April and June of this year chose suburban locations and this compares with 50% before the pandemic. But it’s hardly the exodus from cities that some had speculated, and I would also note that there was even a small uptick in urban home purchases in that 3-month period – 12% before the pandemic, and 14% after. Meanwhile, sales actually fell a little in small towns and rural areas in the same timeframe, so I do not anticipate a massive move to the countryside.

 

Yes!  You’ve heard this from me for a long time now. First-time buyers will be a major force again this year – and for years to come – brokers need to figure out how to work with them. Their numbers are only going to grow.

 

Condos – Hmmm this is interesting.  Although I don’t see the condo market collapsing across the country – although I do see significant issues in markets like Manhattan and San Francisco – I am seeing inventory levels rise fairly significantly as opposed to single-family homes for sale whose numbers continues to drop but, for now, there still appears to be demand as sales are higher too. My concern is really in regard to the urban condominium market. You see, for many, the primary reasons to buy a downtown condo are twofold.  Convenient access to work, and lifestyle.

 

Well, some won’t have to live close to work if they are working a majority – or all – of the time from home and secondly, if we lose some of the lifestyle reasons to live in a city – restaurants, retail, and the like, well that takes away some of the rationale behind buying a downtown condo.

 

There’s no need to panic yet but I will be watching urban condo markets to see if demand continues to keep up with rising supply.  If it doesn’t, then we may well see prices softening.

 

And finally, well done, you made it through 2020!

 

So, there you have it.  My 2021 US housing forecast.

 

I really hope that you have found this video – and the ones I have published before – of use to you and your clients.

 

As always, take care out there, and remember to wear your masks.

 

In all seriousness though, it really has been an honor to speak with you all this year and, hopefully, we will meet again –in person this time – at some point next year.

So, between now and then, stay safe, have a wonderful holiday, and here’s to a great 2021 for all of us.

 

Bye now.

The post Matthew Gardner COVID-19 Housing & Economic Update: 12/7/2020 appeared first on Windermere Real Estate.