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Housing market outlook: Top real estate CEO says high home prices are pricing people out

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Housing is complicated, but one thing is clear: It’s hard to buy a home right now. Let me paint a picture for you. Home prices skyrocketed during the pandemic-fueled housing boom; more people were working from home and could do so from anywhere. Plus, mortgage rates were historically low, so people bought houses. But then inflation rose and the Federal Reserve raised interest rates in an attempt to tame it. Mortgage rates followed, but unlike in typical housing cycles, home prices didn’t fall. So what do we have? High home prices, high mortgage rates, and depressed home sales. And it’s even harder to buy a home if you’ve never owned one before, meaning mostly younger generations are being hit the hardest. 

“The issue is that the correction hasn’t been a correction; prices are up 5%,” Redfin’s chief executive, Glenn Kelman, told CNBC yesterday. “And that’s because interest rates rose so fast this time, and there hasn’t been a recession.”

He continued, “so the soft landing has been good for America overall, good obviously for the economy, but it’s been bad for the housing market because it’s kept rates high. And so that’s why there isn’t more inventory reaching the market, and that’s why homes haven’t become more affordable. Normally in a market like 2008, you see prices come down 30% to 50% and suddenly buyers are back in the game. But this time, prices are still really high, and especially first-time homebuyers are shut out. Millennials have been waiting a long time to buy a house and they just can’t get a break.”

But baby boomers who’ve watched their home values soar, and anyone who bought before or during the pandemic, are generally doing alright (aside from maybe feeling stuck because they don’t want to lose their low mortgage rate). 

“Housing has hit rock bottom,” Kelman said. “Four million people are going to move this year; that is the lowest number that we’ve seen in many, many years, and it’s just because interest rates have been so persistently high.” 

But it could be better than last year, when existing home sales fell to their lowest point in almost 30 years. Kelman thinks some people are less likely to put off their home buying plans this year, “just because they’re going crazy living with their ex-wife, or they have a third baby and there’s no space in the house. But still, the overall economic conditions for buying a house are rough.”

In a separate interview with CNBC on Wednesday, Realtor.com’s chief economist, Danielle Hale, said there are 36% fewer homes for sale now than before the pandemic—and with high home prices and high mortgage rates, buyers need to earn more than $100,000 in 34 out of the 50 largest metropolitan areas to buy a typical home.

And here’s the thing, there is a bit of a bifurcation. Places such as Florida and Texas, as Kelman pointed out, are seeing home prices ease because they’re building homes—and he expects that to continue in red states where it’s typically easier to develop anything. In California and New York, there simply aren’t enough homes for sale to see prices fall meaningfully, if at all. So that’s why in cities in California, where you need to make much more than $100,000 to afford a home, younger generations are renting. “It’s why we see homeownership rates in these large markets trail behind the typical U.S. housing market,” Hale said. “So it is challenging.”

Despite some improvement in for-sale inventory compared to last year, she said it is still “a pretty dire situation for young people.”

Daily mortgage rates have fallen after a recent run up over the last few weeks. The current average 30-year fixed mortgage rate is 7.18%. Where mortgage rates are headed really depends on economic conditions, particularly inflation, which is proving to be stickier than expected. And inflation has been so stubborn, for one, because of housing; it’s a large component of the consumer price index. We’ve seen the housing component soften a bit, but not enough to bring rates down, Kelman explained.

And he isn’t keen on predicting where mortgage rates will end the year. “I’m just trying not to count my chickens before they hatch. We’ve had our hearts broken before where we thought we might get lower rates later in the year; Redfin isn’t betting on that right now,” Kelman said.

For Hale’s part, she said: “I do think we’re going to see inflation eventually relent and mortgage rates come down.” 

And we’ll have to wait until May 15 to see where inflation lands, and even longer for how the Fed will react. 

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