What Is Happening in the Housing Market?

on Jun26
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Gianni Martinez, 31, thought that it would be fairly easy to buy an apartment.

Mortgage rates are now hovering around 7 percent — the highest they’ve been since 2007 — thanks to the Federal Reserve’s efforts to tame inflation. Central bankers have lifted their official policy rate to about 5 percent over the past 15 months, which has translated into higher borrowing costs across the economy.

Mr. Martinez, a tech worker, expected that to cool down Miami real estate. But instead, he is finding himself in stiff competition for one- to two-bedroom apartments near the ocean. He has made seven or eight offers and is willing to put 25 percent down, but he keeps losing, often to people paying cash instead of taking out a pricey mortgage.

“Because of interest rates at 7 percent, I didn’t think it would be this competitive — but that doesn’t matter to cash buyers,” Mr. Martinez said, noting that he’s competing with foreign bidders and other young people who show up to open houses with their parents in tow, suggesting Mom or Dad may be helping to foot the bill.

“When there is a correctly priced listing, it’s a madhouse,” he said.

The Fed’s rate increases are aimed at slowing America’s economy — in part by restraining the housing market — to try to bring inflation under control. Those moves worked quickly at first to weaken interest-sensitive parts of the economy: Housing markets across the United States pulled back notably last year. But that cool-down seems to be cracking.

That could matter for policy: Fed officials think that the economy needs to spend some time growing at a speed that is below its full potential for inflation to fully cool off. In a weak economy, consumers don’t want to buy as much, so companies struggle to charge as much.

“Remote work means working from home for a lot of people,” Mr. Ozimek said. “That really increases the value of space.”

Available housing supply, meantime, has been tight. That’s also partly because of the Fed. Many people refinanced their mortgages when interest rates were at rock bottom in 2020 and 2021, and they are now reluctant to sell and lose those cheap mortgages.

“The most surprising thing about this housing market is how the increase in interest rates has affected supply and demand pretty equally,” said Daryl Fairweather, chief economist at Redfin. The pullback in demand was probably a bit more intense, she said, but builders are benefiting from a “dire lack of supply.”

As young people continue to bid on houses and inventory comes up short, prices and construction are staging their surprise comeback.

“Demand has hung in there better than we would have expected for that first-time buyer,” said Michael Fratantoni, chief economist at the Mortgage Bankers Association.

Ms. Bostjancic said that the recent housing data will probably nudge the Fed toward higher rates. Officials paused their rate moves in June after 10 straight increases, but have suggested that they could lift them twice more in 2023, including at their meeting next month.

If there’s a silver lining for the Fed, it is that home prices will not directly feed into inflation. America’s price measures use rents to calculate housing costs because they try to capture the cost of consumption. Buying a home is, in part, a financial investment.

Rent growth has been stalling for months now — which is slowly feeding into official inflation data as people renew leases.

“Rent growth is taking a nice, deep breath in,” said Igor Popov, chief economist at Apartment List. “Right now, it does not feel like there’s a lot of new heat.”

Still, at least one Fed official has fretted that the pickup in housing could limit the scope of that slowdown. As home prices rise, some investors and landlords could decide to either charge more or to shift from renting out houses and to buying and selling them — curbing rental supply.

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