With unadjusted house prices recently eclipsing their 2006 housing boom peak, housing affordability is a concern in the industry and for potential home buyers. Existing home owners, by definition, can afford one so, when we are speaking about housing affordability, it is really a conversation about first-time home buyers.
Home buyers should feel a bit more confident today after the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ employment situation report for July stated that the unemployment rate edged down to 3.9 percent, and hourly wages continue to increase. House price appreciation has exceeded wage growth for 6 years, so ongoing increases in wage growth could translate into some relief for potential buyers. But what is the trajectory for wage growth?
As the mortgage market has continued its transition away from refinances to a predominantly purchase-oriented loan market, the Loan Application Defect Index for purchase transactions has continued to decline, dropping 3.6 percent in the last month and 12.1 percent in the last year. This officially marks a six-month long decline in defect, fraud and misrepresentation and risk on purchase transactions, which have traditionally been considered higher risk.
The three key drivers of the Real House Price Index (RHPI) are household income levels, the 30-year, fixed mortgage rate, and the unadjusted house price index. Changes to household income levels and the 30-year, fixed mortgage rate are considered together as consumer house-buying power. When household income rises and/or the mortgage rate falls, consumer house-buying power increases.
In June, the housing market continued to underperform its potential. Actual existing home sales are 4.2 percent below the market potential for home sales, according to our Potential Home Sales model, which estimates the expected level of existing-home sales based on market fundamentals. The market for existing-home sales is underperforming its potential by an estimated 256,000 sales at a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) and has underperformed its potential for 58 consecutive months.
Yesterday’s Census Bureau report on housing construction bodes well for home buyers, as the pace of housing completions increased 2.2 percent over last year. The continued year-over-year growth in completions means more homes on the market in the short-term, offering some immediate relief in alleviating housing supply shortages.
As we reflect on our country’s recent Independence Day commemoration, we find that the desire to achieve the American dream of homeownership still exists. Because, while the U.S. homeownership rate remains close to half-century lows, demand is strong, especially among millennials. In fact, results of our Real Estate Sentiment Index survey of title agents and real estate professionals conducted in the second quarter of 2018 showed nearly 87 percent of first-time home buyers were in the prime home-buying age of 26 to 35, which corresponds with the ages of millennials.
By now, everyone in the mortgage industry is aware that we are entering a market that will be dominated by purchase demand for the next several years. According to the latest Mortgage Bankers Association forecast, refinance transactions will make up 28 percent of total mortgages originated in 2018 and is forecasted to drop to 23 percent by 2020. This is, of course, due to the current environment of increasing mortgage rates that follows years of persistently low rates. Until last month, the average rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage had remained below 4.5 percent for 80 consecutive months. And since most homeowners have benefited from the low-rate environment, they now have little financial incentive to refinance, or sell and buy again. With mortgage rates continuing to rise, the financial value of keeping their current low-rate mortgages is likely to increase.
The Real House Price Index (RHPI) views house prices in relation to consumer house-buying power, incorporating household income, mortgage rates, and an unadjusted house price index. When incomes rise, consumer house-buying power increases. When mortgage rates or house prices rise, consumer house-buying power declines.
Closing the Housing Stock Gap
Today’s Census Bureau report sends an optimistic message about the housing market. Building permits increased 8.0 percent since this time last year, while housing starts rose 20.3 percent. The year-over-year increase in housing starts tells us that an increase in new housing supply is on the way. The pace of housing completions, at a 1.29 million seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR), is particularly important as it brings new supply that can offset current housing shortages.