The U.S. housing market is currently grappling with a critical issue: a drastic downturn in inventory, reaching its lowest point in over a decade. This alarming trend, exacerbated by the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and high mortgage rates, has created a crisis for homebuyers and sellers. In this article, we will explore the factors contributing to this decline and the implications for those involved in the housing market.
The Impact of the Pandemic:
The housing market took a significant hit due to the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in a substantial decrease in available inventory. In May 2019, there were 2.2 million homes for sale, representing a staggering 38.6 percent decrease compared to the current market. The uncertainty and economic instability caused by the pandemic prompted many potential sellers to postpone listing their homes, leading to a scarcity of properties on the market.
The Mortgage Rate Factor:
While low mortgage rates fueled a buying frenzy in 2020 and 2021, the current comparatively high mortgage rates have hindered the replenishment of housing inventory. Reluctant to let go of their lower velocities, homeowners have hesitated to sell. More than 90 percent of homeowners with mortgages currently enjoy rates below 6 percent, with over 80 percent benefiting from rates below 5 percent. In May, the average 30-year fixed mortgage rate rose to 6.43 percent, a significant increase from 5.23 percent the previous year and far higher than the record low of 2.65 percent in 2021.
Stable Housing Prices:
Despite the decline in inventory and the impact of higher mortgage rates, housing prices have remained relatively stable. In May, the median U.S. home sale price stood at $419,103, reflecting a modest decrease of 3.1 percent compared to the previous year’s record high of $432,311. This stability can be attributed to the persistent supply-demand imbalance, limited inventory, and continued buyer interest supporting prices.
The recent report by Redfin highlights significant variations in price changes across different markets. Cities like Austin, Boise, and Oakland experienced rapid price growth during the pandemic and have witnessed double-digit price decreases as the market cools. Conversely, affordable cities such as Hartford, Connecticut; Rochester, New York; and Cincinnati have recorded price increases of approximately 10 percent as buyers seek locations where their budgets can stretch further.
Redfin Chief Economist Daryl Fairweather suggests that it is premature to determine if price declines have bottomed out. The potential rise in mortgage rates, as indicated by the Federal Reserve, could further dampen homebuyer demand and potentially lead to minor price declines in the near term. However, it is unlikely that the market will experience the significant double-digit price declines witnessed during the 2008 housing crisis.
The U.S. housing market is grappling with a severe inventory shortage, reaching its lowest point in over a decade. The combined impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and high mortgage rates has dissuaded potential sellers from listing their homes. Although housing prices have remained relatively stable, variations exist across different regions. As the market continues to evolve, homebuyers and sellers must stay informed about these trends and adjust their strategies accordingly to navigate the challenging landscape of the current housing market.