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.
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.
First American Chief Economist Mark Fleming was interviewed yesterday on CNBC and explained the link between rising rates, housing supply and affordability.
At the May Federal Reserve (Fed) meeting last week, all eyes were on the 10-year Treasury yield. In late April, that yield topped 3 percent for the first time in more than four years. With yields on the rise, housing market participants expect this to mean higher interest rates from central banks. It’s often overlooked that the popular 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage is benchmarked to the 10-year Treasury bond. In fact, as shown in the chart below, since the end of the recession, the 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage has on average remained 1.7 percentage points higher than the 10-year Treasury bond yield. So, if that trend remains consistent, if the 10-year Treasury yield rises above 3 percent, then the 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage rate should also rise to 4.5 percent.
“The recent increase in the 10-year Treasury yield indicates higher mortgage rates are likely in the very near future. But, even as mortgage rates increase, we remain well below the historical average of about 8 percent for a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage – and house-buying power remains strong.”
A common adage about real estate is that it’s local. The dynamics of one housing market can be very different from another depending on the local economy and access to natural amenities, like mountains or water. The levels of loan application defect, fraud and misrepresentation risk vary greatly based on local conditions as well. In fact, substantial differences exist among the 100 markets that we track with the Loan Application Defect Index. For example, the riskiest market this month, Little Rock, Ark., is almost twice as risky as the safest market, Rochester, NY.
In March, the housing market continued to underperform its potential. Actual existing home sales are 4.5 percent below the market potential for home sales, according to our Potential Home Sales model. The lack of supply is the primary culprit. The inventory of homes for sale in most markets remains historically tight, yet demand continues to rise as millennials further age into homeownership. Limited supply and rising demand means house prices are surging, so why aren’t more existing homeowners selling their homes? Two market dynamics are at play.
It’s been a long time coming – a rising rate environment. The 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage has been below 4.5 percent since late 2013 and is now finally moving consistently higher. According to the consensus of economic forecasts, it is likely to approach 5 percent by the end of this year. This matters for defect, fraud and misrepresentation risk as rising mortgage rates reduce the benefit of refinancing and increase the share of purchase loan transactions in the market. As we have noted before, purchase loan transactions are riskier than refinance transactions.
As expected, the Federal Open Market Committee increased the Federal Funds rate last week, and signaled they expect to increase rates further later this year. It’s clear we have entered the rising interest rate environment that many have been predicting for years. With rising rates the new reality for the housing market, earlier this month we examined the possible impact of a dramatic increase in 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage rates on the market potential for sales. We found that even doubling the mortgage interest rate may only reduce the market potential for home sales by about 5 percent.
The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting is just around the corner, and experts agree that an increase in the Federal Funds Rate is almost certain. In fact, the expectation of future Fed rate hikes is already putting upward pressure on mortgage rates. The benchmark 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage rate jumped three basis points to 4.4 percent this past week. Since the start of the year, the benchmark rate has climbed almost half a percentage point and has increased for eight consecutive weeks. Concern is growing about the impact of the rising mortgage rates on the housing market, but it is important to keep today’s mortgage-rate environment in perspective.