Adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs), a symbol of the housing market crash, are making a comeback, but their resurgence is not an indicator of a potential negative turn in the housing market. An ARM is a mortgage that typically has a 30-year repayment term, but the interest rate is fixed for the first few years of the loan. Once the fixed period ends, the interest rate adjusts based on market changes.
The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting is just around the corner and a rate hike is almost certain, according to experts, which will trigger conversations about rising mortgage rates across the housing industry. While changes to the federal funds rate won’t necessarily spur further increases in mortgage rates, mortgage rates are expected to rise nonetheless.
Last month, we noted in our latest Real House Price Index (RHPI) report that house price appreciation may be slowing. According to our RHPI, 21 cities experienced a monthly decline in their real, consumer house-buying power-adjusted price level. One reason for the price appreciation slowdown is that 21 of the 50 largest cities in the U.S. experienced an increase in the number of houses on the market in July compared with a year ago, according to realtor.com data.
House price appreciation remains on a tear, as unadjusted home prices nationwide increased by 7.3 percent compared with a year ago and are now 1.3 percent above the housing boom peak in 2006, according to DataTree by First American. The U.S. economy continues to perform well, as the current economic expansion reaches record levels, prompting some to ponder when it will end.
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.
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.
As the home-buying season continues, the inventory of homes for sale remains historically low, while demand is increasing. Not surprisingly, house prices continue to rise. In March, unadjusted house prices increased by 6.4 percent compared with a year ago and they are now 8.7 percent above the housing boom peak for unadjusted house prices reached in 2007. But, does that tell the real story?
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.”
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.
Earlier this month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that average hourly earnings increased in January by 2.9 percent compared with a year ago. This was a big splash of economic news that had ripple effects on the housing market, as the 2.9 percent increase in wages surpassed expectations.