The recent stumble of the housing market recovery has been a head scratcher for many. Surely low interest rates and an abundant number of homes for sale should have been incentive for any home buyer. But alas, many have been disappointed by the 2014 housing trends; even with sparse anecdotes of quick sales and bidding wars. However, many are optimistic about the housing market for 2015 because of the combination of low mortgage interest rates, increased access to credit, and moderating home prices – which could transform reluctant “looky loos” into eager home buyers.
Don’t count on low mortgage interest rates, per se, to incentivize home buyers. Although interest rates have been historically low since shortly after the financial crisis, it seems to not have been an incentive on its own to purchase homes. Industry experts have tried to pinpoint the timing of rate increases since rates first dipped below 5% in 2010. And even though rates were anticipated to have jumped when the Fed tapered its asset purchasing program this year, rates continue to be relative to historical lows. The average mortgage interest rate according to the Freddie Mac Primary Mortgage Market Survey (freddiemac.com) is 4.01% (as of November 13th); yet home sale volume continues to lag behind 2013 figures.
Very low interest rates may continue into 2015. Back in 2012, the Federal Reserve Open Market Committee indicated that interest rates would remain “exceptionally” low through 2014. Fast forward to September’s Federal Reserve Open Market Committee meeting; the October Fed press release (federalreserve.gov) reported the FOMC maintaining the 0 to ¼ percent target rate, even for a “considerable time following the end of its asset purchase program…”
On the other hand, loosening mortgage credit underwriting could help some would-be home buyers; but it is unclear who would take advantage of such programs, and how it will help them. Tightened credit and underwriting standards that resulted from the financial crisis, along with government intervention in the form of the Dodd – Frank legislation, created regulation and stringent lending standards (such as comprehensive validation of financial standing and strict adherence to debt to income ratios); which critics point to as having hampered lenders from making loans. However, some lenders are beginning to introduce less restrictive mortgage programs, which may accommodate the self employed and those with high student loan debt.
Of course, home prices have been a point of contention between home buyers and sellers for a number of years. Home sellers seeking higher prices are sometimes thwarted by home buyers looking for affordability and value. The seeming home price tug-of-war that favored home sellers in 2013, appeared to turn back in favor of home buyers during late summer of 2014. The October 28th release of the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices (housingviews.com) reported further deceleration of home price appreciation. The National Index showed a 5.1% annual gain, which is lower than the 5.6% annual gain reported in July. The Washington DC region saw a 3.1% annual increase; but a 0% change in August, compared to the 0.1% change in July.
Additionally, the 15% increase in national foreclosure activity, as reported by RealtyTrac (realtytrac.com), could be a wildcard for home prices. It remains to be seen if the 26% increase in foreclosure activity in the D.C. metropolitan area from the previous year is a trend, or just a result of lenders clearing “shadow” inventory.
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