Quiet Quitting, A Slow Spring And Steep Drops: Are U.S. House Prices Raising The Roof, Or Hitting The Ceiling?

(Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)AFP via Getty ImagesKey takeaways

The Fed paused interest rate hikes for the first time in nearly a year last week, giving hope mortgage interest rates might fall
Spring selling season saw record lows of homes for sale across U.S.
The median national sale price of a home has fallen 1.7% in April compared to last year

The U.S. housing market hasn’t seen such high mortgage interest rates since the Great Recession of 2008. Ever since the Fed began its aggressive monetary tightening policy to fight inflation, it’s left homeowners facing more expensive mortgages and made moving unappealing – leaving inventory at historically low levels.

It was inevitable something had to give, though the impact on the housing market has flummoxed analysts as house prices have accelerated slightly in the last couple of months. There’s a complex web of factors that influence home prices – let’s take a look at how it’s all unfolding so far in 2023.

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What factors are affecting U.S.house prices?
Mortgage rates are heavily influenced by ten-year Treasury yields, which in turn are driven by the federal funds’ interest rate. These have risen dramatically over the last year to try and tackle rising inflation. But 10 raises in a row finally ended last week when the Fed took what experts call a ‘hawkish pause’ with a view to increasing them further as soon as next month.

At one point during the monetary tightening cycle, mortgage rates rose to as much as 7.12% in October last year. The sudden and steep hikes have considerably slowed down the housing market, yet the latest house prices data showed home price growth for March increasing 1.3%, according to the Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price NSA Index.
Buoyancy in the national average home prices is largely due to record-low inventory levels. The National Association of Realtors found at the start of 2022, the supply of homes for sale hit a record low of 1.6 months. It’s barely recovered since then.
As a result, Fed chair Jerome Powell said he was keeping an eye on the housing market. “Housing is very interest-sensitive, and it’s one of the first places that’s either helped by low rates or held back by higher rates,” Powell said at the June meeting press conference.
‘Quiet quitting’ in the spring selling season
The spring season is a traditional boom period for the housing market: the weather gets nicer again, prompting people to consider moving home before schools start up again in the fall. But not this year.
There were only 392,000 homes listed for sale in April 2023 this year, down from the 498,000 recorded the same time last year and way below the 552,000 seen in April 2019. The unusual season prompted Redfin’s chief economist to say homeowners are ‘quiet quitting’ the housing market, a phenomenon first seen when workers left their jobs at record levels in 2021.
The reason? Interest rates. Redfin recently found almost 92% of U.S. homeowners have a mortgage rate below 6%. In short, homeowners want to stay put because they risk paying much more in monthly mortgage payments if they move now.
Where are house prices falling the fastest?
Higher mortgage rates mean those looking to buy another home or get on the property ladder for the first time cannot borrow as much as they were before or have simply decided it’s worth waiting out the higher rates instead.
At the start of the year, Goldman Sachs said in a client note that four cities were at the biggest risk of a housing price crash not seen since 2008: San Jose and San Diego in California, Austin in Texas and Phoenix in Arizona. These cities were singled out due to “overheated housing markets” in the areas and were predicted to suffer a 25% drop in home prices.
So, how well has that prediction held up? Data from Redfin shows it’s a mixed bag thus far. Since last year, Austin homes have dropped the most, having shed at least 15% in value. Phoenix housing prices have fallen 6.4% from last year, while San Jose home asking prices have plunged 9.33%. On the other hand, San Diego’s median sale prices have only dropped 1.1% year-over-year.
Other parts of the U.S. aren’t holding up well either: Boise, Salt Lake City and Seattle have all seen median home prices drop at least $60,000 since last year. San Francisco’s home price drop now averages $220,000 thanks to the added pressure of mass tech layoffs.
Could there be a national housing price crash?
Another worrying prediction for homeowners in the Goldmans note from the start of 2023 was that the investment bank expects the average 30-year fixed mortgage rate to settle at 6.5% by the end of the year.
If interest rates, 10-tear Treasury yields and mortgage rates continue to rise, more homeowners will be priced out of the market. It’s not a wild prediction: the latest U.S. CPI report saw core inflation in May accelerate slightly, indicating more needs to be done to tame sticky inflation. As of last week, the average is currently at 6.69%, far outstripping the prediction and prompting experts to guess the average for a 30-year mortgage interest rate could peak at 8.5%.
The nationwide median sale price of a home is currently at just shy of $389,000 – a 1.7% decrease from this time last year. The housing supply is currently at 2.9 months, which is low, so there’s a chance national housing prices will decline as interest rates remain steep, but it won’t be close to the levels seen in 2008.
The bottom line
2023 looks like a game of chicken for homeowners, would-be buyers and housing experts. Nobody knows what will happen, so everyone is waiting on the next piece of economic data or remark from a Fed official to get a glimpse of what the future of the housing market and house prices will look like.
There are clear regional differences, with overheated markets finally cooling down after years of price inflation. But overall, mortgage rates are a key factor in homeowners staying put for as long as possible and waiting out the storm. It’s only until those come down to more favorable levels will home selling get underway again.
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