The Fed, interest rates, and the housing market

From Zillow.com

After a historic run of over seven years of near zero interest rates, the Fed pulled the trigger to raise the target rate on December 17th to 0.25% – 0.5%. The last time the Fed changed the rate was almost exactly seven years ago on December 16th 2008, when the rate decreased from 1% to near zero. And it’s the first rate increase since June 29th 2006!

In the midst of what was to become the beginning of the great recession, the Federal Open Market Committee press release  from December 16th 2008 (federalreserve.gov) described the rate change to near zero as a means to, “…promote the resumption of sustainable economic growth and to preserve price stability.  In particular, the Committee anticipates that weak economic conditions are likely to warrant exceptionally low levels of the federal funds rate for some time.” And since, housing experts anticipated a Fed rate increase; often predicting how the real estate market would be affected.

Although a significant move by the Fed, the rate increase is minor and rates continue to be relatively low. And don’t worry, even with last week’s Fed target rate increase last week, it doesn’t mean the that mortgage interest rates automatically increase the same amount. Mortgage rates are gauged by bond yields, which usually anticipate and “bake in” any significant news into rates prior to economic announcements.

Real EstatePutting rates in perspective, Freddie Mac’s Primary Mortgage Market Survey indicated that the average national 30-year-fixed mortgage rate increased last week slightly from 3.95% to 3.97% (and up from the 3.80% a year ago). Furthermore, Freddie Mac’s Economic and Housing Research Weekly Commentary and Economic Update December 17th statement expects a gradual Fed monetary tightening, with a “modest increase” in long term rates. Additionally, “…Mortgage rates will tick higher but remain at historically low levels in 2016. Home sales will remain strong, but refinance activity should cool somewhat…” (freddiemac.com).

Some say that the Fed’s rate increase is premature, while others say that it may be too late to raise rates; however, many economic experts concur that the economy remains in uncharted waters. Regardless, housing experts agree that the Fed rate increase is good for the real estate market.

The National Association of Realtors® chief economist, Lawrence Yun stated that mortgage rates should continue to remain relatively low through 2016, saying, “…The raising of short-term rates could be more of a confidence play to the market — it provides a signal that the economy is strengthening, … and the lenders believe that, it may actually provide more lending opportunity for the banks…” (What the Fed’s Decision Means for Housing; realtormag.realtor.org; December 17, 2015).

Bankrate’s Mark Hamrick pointed out two benefits to the housing market from a rate increase (7 unintended benefits of higher interest rates from the Federal Reserve; bankrate.com; September 11, 2015). The first benefit is increased lending: Banks are incentivized to lend money when rates increase; possibly expanding mortgage lending which could increase the number of qualified home buyers participating in the market. The second benefit is increasing the pool of home buyers: increasing rates could get fence sitters into the market because of rising buyer costs. However, this may be a progressive effect through 2016, as mortgage rates are estimated to gradually increase beyond 4.5% (rising interest rates may also moderate ballooning home prices to prevent another housing bubble).

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Copyright © Dan Krell

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