If one thing is really clear in the economy, it is that the housing sector’s momentum is clearly negative. Home sales slumped badly in November and then worse in December. Further, home buying traffic plunged too. This is not necessarily a surprise when you consider how much mortgage rates have risen, but contrasted with how well the labor market is doing, it is quite eye-opening.
FINSUM: We are going to come in with a contrarian viewpoint here. Consider these stats, all reported by Barron’s: “The median home value in December was $223,900, up 7.6% over the past year, according to real-estate listing service Zillow. That is up from about $150,000 in late 2011. Properties are sitting on the market an average of 78 days, down from 114 days in 2016. The mortgage delinquency rate is a low 1.1%, and just 8.2% of houses had negative equity—well below levels of a few years ago. The foreclosure rate has plunged to 1.2%, down from 6.3% in 2009”. That shows a very different picture!
While markets have calmed down somewhat from December’s chaos, there are still worries over the domestic and global economy. Part of those worries is the real estate market, which continues to sink into a notable slump that could either prove a blip or an important leading indicator. December homes sales fell 6.4% from the previous month and a whopping 10%+ from last December. The market is suffering from significantly elevated mortgage rates and a lack of starter homes. The big fall in sales is counterintuitive because of the currently strong labor market.
FINSUM: The housing market reflects interest rate rises in a very pure way. The big question is whether this is a leading indicator or a slowdown that is idiosyncratic to the sector. To be honest, we think it is some of both.
If you think the real estate market is bad now, just wait. That is the argument from James Stack of InvesTech Research. Stack accurately called the last housing crisis and also forecast the slowdown in 2018. Now he is saying that 2019 is going to be the worst year for a long time. “Expect home sales to continue on a downward trend in the next 12-plus months. And there’s a significant downside risk to housing prices if a recession takes hold”, says Stack. He does admit that it is too hard to say if housing is currently in a bubble, but that prices are very likely to fall.
FINSUM: Mortgage rates have risen sharply and prices are quite elevated, so it is no wonder prices have fallen. However, real estate hasn’t seen the exuberance it did pre-Crisis, so we do not think this will be a meltdown by any means.
Real estate has been the metaphorical whipping boy of data releases this year. The market has been largely slumping for months, with home sales mostly slowing as rates rose. Now more data has been released, and despite generally bearish sentiment, the numbers still surprised to the downside. In the month of November, pending US home sales felling a whopping 7.7% from a year previously. To be clear, pending sales mean signed contracts to buy homes (closings are usually 45 days later), which mean they are a good leading indicator.
FINSUM: Is it any wonder that four rate hikes this year have hurt the housing market? The question is whether the same will happen to the economy and real estate is just showing the effects first.
It would be easy to think that real estate is headed towards a buyer’s market. Inventory has been increasing, prices gains have slowed or disappeared, rates are rising, and prices are very high. However, despite all of this, many real estate experts think 2019 will still be a better year to be a seller than a buyer. The reason why is that inventory may only increase slightly, which will keep prices relatively high and not lead to massive price cuts like in the last housing downturn. A recession still looks a little way off, which could also insulate prices as the employment market stays tight.
FINSUM: We think the housing market is definitely going to see prices stay flat or fall next year, mostly because demand is falling as rates rise. However, we do agree that the bottom is not going to fall out by any means.