A slew of negative housing numbers for July are piling up on top of a slew of negative housing numbers from the last several months.
Sales of new and existing homes are falling, construction of single-family homes is basically flat for the year, mortgage rates are rising and affordability is weakening. It certainly feels like the housing recovery that really took off in the last four years has come to a grinding halt, but it hasn’t.
Is the ultra-hot and competitive housing market cooling off? Absolutely. Home prices rose too far, too fast, and the market is now hitting a price wall. We know that because the price gains are finally starting to shrink, according to a report this week from the National Association of Realtors. Anecdotally, real estate agents across the country are saying that their sellers are beginning to come back down to earth.
“I don’t think the recovery is over,” said Sam Khater, chief economist at Freddie Mac. “Economic growth is still very strong and essentially running at capacity. However, the consistent decline in housing affordability means there are fewer consumers who can afford to purchase a home.”
The reason the housing recovery isn’t over is because demand is very solid, and the price gains are starting to ease. As with all things real estate, however, location is key in this recovery.
“While the decline in home sales and deceleration in home price growth has been broad-based, the slowdown is more intense in the hot coastal markets — which is a natural reaction to rapidly escalating home prices and higher rates versus a year ago,” added Khater.
Foreclosure starts hit a 17-year low in June, according to Black Knight Inc., and mortgage delinquencies are at their lowest level in more than a decade. That includes a slight bump in troubled loans from states hit hard by last year’s hurricanes.
The vast majority of homeowners are paying their mortgages on time, and an increasing number of homeowners are putting a lot of money into their houses, raising the value and adding to the remodeling economy of materials and retailers.
The housing shortage has been the one glaring villain holding back a more robust housing recovery. Demand is strong, thanks to basic demographics, an improving economy and a stronger labor market. The trouble is that most of that demand is on the low end of the market, where supply is leanest.
“Builders need to manage rising construction costs to keep their homes competitively priced for the newcomers to the housing market,” said Danushka Nanayakkara-Skillington, senior economist at the National Association of Home Builders. “While affordability conditions remain positive and the labor market sees low unemployment, prospective homebuyers face increased uncertainties as interest rates trend higher and trade war concerns grow.”
The housing recovery may have peaked, but it isn’t over. As more supply hits the market, sales will grow again. Consumer credit scores are still strengthening, a huge generation is aging into its homebuying years, and another huge generation is downsizing into active adult communities and urban condominium developments. While there is a new affinity for renting, that demand can fuel home construction and the overall housing economy as well.