Lower rates boost housing market potential, but also discourage homeowners from selling and increase tenure length,First American’s Potential Home Sales Model reflects the mood and financial attitudes of consumers
SANTA ANA, Calif.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–First American Financial Corporation (NYSE: FAF), a leading global provider of title insurance, settlement services and risk solutions for real estate transactions, today released First American’s proprietary Potential Home Sales Model for the month of December 2019.
Chief Economist Analysis: The Duality of Low Mortgage Rates
“The final month of 2019 saw actual existing-home sales exceed housing market potential by 1.2 percent, or an estimated 64,830 seasonally adjusted annualized sales,” said Mark Fleming, chief economist at First American. “According to our Potential Home Sales Model, housing market potential increased 1.7 percent in December 2019 relative to the previous month, and grew 2.6 percent year over year, an increase of 134,460 potential existing-home sales.
“The growth in the market potential for existing-home sales is the net result of several forces that either boost or bash housing market potential,” said Fleming. “However, one market driver is actually both a positive and a negative influence on housing market potential – persistently low mortgage rates.”
Lower Rates Boost Affordability
“In December 2019, the primary driver of rising housing market potential compared with one year ago was increased house-buying power, how much home one can afford to buy given household income and the prevailing mortgage rate. House-buying power was 12.5 percent higher than a year ago,” said Fleming. “This increase in house-buying power had the greatest impact on housing market potential in 2019, boosting market potential by 316,000 potential home sales.
“The house-buying power surge was driven by the combined impact of lower mortgage rates, which were 0.92 percent lower in December than they were a year ago, and a 2.4 percent increase in annual household income,” said Fleming. “Clearly, lower mortgage rates result in considerable affordability gains for potential home buyers, which boost home-buying demand and, in turn, market potential.”
December 2019 Potential Home Sales
- Potential existing-home sales increased to a 5.30 million seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR), a 1.7 percent month-over-month increase.
- This represents a 57.8 percent increase from the market potential low point reached in February 1993.
- The market potential for existing-home sales increased by 2.6 percent compared with a year ago, a gain of 134,460 (SAAR) sales.
- Currently, potential existing-home sales is 1.43 million (SAAR), or 21.3 percent below the pre-recession peak of market potential, which occurred in March 2004.
Market Performance Gap
- The market for existing-home sales outperformed its potential by 1.2 percent or an estimated 64,830 (SAAR) sales.
The market performance gap decreased by an estimated 44,610 (SAAR) sales between November 2019 and December 2019.
Persistently Low Rates Increase Tenure Length, Reduce Supply
“Falling mortgage rates can help incentivize homeowners to sell their home and purchase a different home, but persistently low mortgage rates can have the opposite effect,” said Fleming. “The decades-long decline in the 30-year, fixed mortgage rate, dropping from a high of 18 percent in 1981 to a low of nearly 3 percent in 2012, to just below 4 percent today, has helped prod the housing market. This long-run decline increased affordability and encouraged existing homeowners to move.
“However, the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage has hovered below 5 percent since the end of the Great Recession – nearly a decade ago! While historically low rates increase buying power and make it more affordable for potential buyers to purchase a home, they also discourage many existing homeowners from selling,” said Fleming. “There is little to no house-buying power benefit for homeowners with an already low mortgage rate, so the only way existing homeowners can increase their house-buying power is through household income growth. This helps explain why more and more homeowners have decided to ‘stay put,’ reducing the inventory of homes for sale.
“As a result, tenure length (how long one stays in a home between moves) has increased dramatically. Prior to the recession, tenure length was less than six years on average. In December 2019, tenure length approached 12 years, up 8 percent compared with one year ago,” said Fleming. “According to our analysis, lower rates boost housing market potential, but also discourage homeowners from selling and increase tenure length, thus reducing the supply of existing homes for sale – this is the duality of low mortgage rates.”
What Does This Mean For 2020?
“Consensus among forecasters is that mortgage rates will remain below 4 percent for the next two years. Low mortgage rates and increased house-buying power will continue to boost demand, as will demographic tailwinds from millennials entering their prime home-buying years. On the other hand, those persistently low rates will discourage existing homeowners from selling, pushing up tenure length and limiting the inventory of homes available for sale,” said Fleming. “However, that doesn’t necessarily mean we should expect housing market potential to decline. There are many considerations that go into one’s housing tenure decision, which could result in the desire to move. The lack of housing supply has been the norm for several years, yet the housing market has endured.”