No. 1: 2014 should prove to be the strongest year for housing activity since before the Great Recession.
Propelling home sales are job growth and housing affordability. The latter reflects the interplay of household income, mortgage rates and house prices. In 2013, while housing activity picked up, it was a year when job growth remained low and virtually unchanged from the previous year. Moreover, affordability, while still high, fell sharply in the second half.
Most economists expect an improved job market in 2014, with employment growth accelerating and the unemployment rate continuing to decline. That jobless rate drop will reflect more of a pickup in employment than further declines in the labor force participation rate. This will be the key factor improving housing demand this year, even if mortgage rates rise and affordability declines. While the housing market tends to do especially well when the job market improves and mortgage rates decline simultaneously, that combination of events occurs only rarely.
More often, either job gains accelerate while mortgage rates rise, or job gains decline while mortgage rates drop. Typically, housing activity expands in the former case and contracts in the latter. People buy homes when their job and income prospects improve – even if it’s more expensive to do so – rather than buy when it is inexpensive to do so but they’re worried about keeping their jobs.
No. 2: Demographics should start to favor housing activity.
Reflecting the slow pace of household formations, there is an increasing pent-up demand for households. After all, most of these young adults would prefer the freedom of being on their own (and their parents really don’t want them as full-time residents, either). We estimate the economy is short by more than three million households.
If the economy expands at a faster pace this year, bringing a more rapid rate of job creation, that should translate into more households, raising housing demand. We won’t see all three million missing households return to the housing market at once. (That wouldn’t be a good thing for the housing market anyway, since that would be on top of the 1.2 million households that normally would develop this year; such a surge would swamp the existing housing supply). Beginning in 2014, the pace of household formations should accelerate to an above-trend pace for several years, pushing up housing demand.
No. 3: Mortgage availability shouldn’t worsen and may improve.
Mortgage credit isn’t nearly as easy to get as it was during the housing boom, and it shouldn’t be. Still, compared with recent years, mortgage availability has increased slightly. And reasons exist for mortgage availability to be no worse in 2014 than in the past few years. Actually, it may be somewhat easier to get a mortgage loan.
In response, mortgage lenders probably will ease lending standards to the extent possible under the QM rules to boost lending activity by increasing purchase originations. As a result, the increase in new households expected to be created this year, spurred by a stronger job market, should find that qualifying for a mortgage loan will be somewhat easier in 2014 than in prior years.