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?
First American Chief Economist Mark Fleming was interviewed yesterday on CNBC and discussed housing supply and demand, affordability and challenges facing new home builders.
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.
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.
With the Federal Reserve Open Market Committee (FOMC) decision to increase the Federal Funds Rate last week, the prospect of higher mortgage rates remains top of mind among real estate professionals and continues to generate headlines. Yet, changes to the short-term rate matter little to the housing market.
Given the strong likelihood of rising mortgage rates in 2018, many savvy real estate market observers are curious how rising rates may impact demand, especially among millennial first-time home buyers. As part of our quarterly First American Real Estate Sentiment Index (RESI), we recently surveyed title insurance agents and real estate professionals across the nation for their perspective on how sensitive they thought first-time home buyers were to rising mortgage rates and at what rate they would withdraw from the market.
First American Chief Economist Mark Fleming was quoted Tuesday in a feature article on Forbes.com, explaining how rising rates can increase housing demand.
In April, the housing market continued to underperform its potential. Existing-home sales were 6.5 percent below the market’s potential for existing-home sales, according to our Potential Home Sales Model. Lack of supply remains the primary culprit. The inventory of homes for sale in most markets remains historically low, yet demand continues to rise as millennials further age into homeownership.