Real Estate Trends
The last two years have been the strongest on record for the housing industry. An unprecedented housing boom increased throughout the 1990s and continued into the new millennium, thanks to relaxed credit standards, sinking interest rates, low unemployment, and an insufficient housing supply. But some worry of an impending end of the boom.
Home sales numbers are leveling off, the rate of price appreciation has slowed to more historically normal averages, and inventory is finally increasing. We are headed into a more normal housing market.
However, some are seeing these adjustments as red flags and are suggesting that we are headed back to the same challenges we experienced in 2008.
The previous bubble was partially caused by unhealthy levels of mortgage debt. New purchasers were putting down the minimum down payment, resulting in them having little if any equity in their homes.
Existing homeowners were using their homes as ATMs by refinancing and swapping their equity for cash. When prices started to fall, many homeowners found themselves in a negative equity situation (where their mortgage was higher than the value of their home) so they walked away which caused prices to fall even further. When this happened, even more, homeowners found themselves in negative equity situations which caused them to walk away as well, and so a vicious cycle formed.
Today, the equity situation is totally different. According to a new report from ATTOM Data Solutions, more than 1-in-4 homes with a mortgage have at least 50% equity. The report explains:
“…nearly 14.5 million U.S. properties were equity rich — where the combined estimated amount of loans secured by the property was 50 percent or less of the property’s estimated market value…The 14.5 million equity rich properties in Q3 2018 represented 25.7 percent of all properties with a mortgage.” In addition, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 30.3% of homes in the country have no mortgage on them.
Almost 50% of all homes have at least 50% equity. If we take both numbers, the 30.3% of all homes without a mortgage and the 17.9% with at least 50% equity (25.7% of the 69.3% of homes with a mortgage), we realize that 48.2% of all homes in the country have at least 50% equity.
Home Prices Outpacing Income Rates
In more than 100 U.S. cities, home prices have climbed at least twice as fast as household incomes since 1998, according to The Wall Street Journal with information from the economic consulting firm Economy.com. Home prices have risen nationally three times faster than incomes since the turn of the century, which has made home ownership an impossibility for more Americans than ever before. This is a significant shift from the congruent price and income figures throughout the 1990s boom.
In large cities like Atlanta, Las Vegas, Denver, Houston, Tucson and Charleston, S.C., home prices have outpaced income at an incredible rate. In Miami, for example, incomes have risen 16 percent, while home prices have increased 58 percent since early 1998. New York's Long Island suburbs have seen just a 14 percent rise in incomes as compared to an 81 percent increase in home prices. Boston home prices have gone up 89 percent, while incomes have increased only 22 percent.
These factors have contributed to the difficulty for first-time homebuyers. The demand for homes, in turn, has slowed, which would point to an eventual slowing or reversal of the rampant price appreciation of the last decade until the market becomes affordable again.
The Wall Street Journal quotes Allen Sinai, a chief global economist of Decision Economics Inc., a forecasting firm: "I have never seen an asset market -- whether it's stocks or real estate -- that has boomed to excessive prices ... without a serious downturn. I really doubt we will escape" without price corrections in some cities, he says. "Asset prices don't go straight up forever."
Even with a leveling in the real estate market looming on the horizon, home sales are still headed for another record year, and low-interest rates alone could prop up the market as long as they last.
Low-interest rates are the only continuing positive trend of the housing market. Low rates average now less than 6 percent for 30-year fixed-rate loans, the lowest since the 1960s. Prices could take a major turn if rates begin to go up again.
Not A Bust, Just A Reset...
Real-estate analysts believe that if the housing market stalls, some areas will continue to grow modestly while other markets gradually go soft, rather than pop. That's because unlike stockholders, homeowners don't normally panic when trouble strikes, and a house is a tangible asset that provides a place to live.
Even so, there hasn’t been as long a period of falling home prices around the country since the Great Depression.
While a housing bust is possible, far greater job losses, significantly higher interest rates and a more inflated market across the country would probably be required and we are not seeing any of that on the horizon. Home-price gains remain fairly constant with incomes in many cities, including Cincinnati, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Columbus.