Declining Mortgage Rates Support First-Time Homebuyers

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According to Freddie Mac, This Week in Real Estate first-time homebuyers, generation Z homebuyers, and single female homebuyers have taken full advantage of the fifty-year low in unemployment and low mortgage rates. Forty-Six percent (46%) of all loans Freddie Mac has purchased this year came from first-time homebuyers, while there has been a 200% and 500% increase in Gen Z and single female homebuyers, respectively. Below are a few highlights from the second week of October that influence our business:

Labor Costs Likely to Push Home Prices Higher. In an article in CoreLogic’s Insights blog, Nothaft quotes National Association of Home Builder (NAHB) figures that say about 60 percent of a new home’s sales price reflects the construction costs of the home. The major components of building costs are those associated with purchasing and preparing a lot, acquiring permits and inspections, hiring labor and buying materials. There was a significant price run-up in the two major components of framing, lumber, and steel. Labor costs are another matter. Much has been written about the shortage of construction labor. Many workers left the trades during the Great Recession and the industry has had trouble luring young people and especially young women into the field. Vacancies as a percent of construction jobs are now at the highest level in 18 years and compensation has risen accordingly. It is up 3 percent this year, about double the rate of inflation. Worker retention is an issue as well. Nothaft says rising land and labor costs will probably offset any savings builders might realize from lower lumber prices and overall costs for a new home will continue to rise.

Mortgage Rates Drop Again – And First-Time Homebuyers Take Full Advantage. Mortgage rates dropped again, and according to Freddie Mac, the downward spiral has first-time buyers gaining ground. In fact, of all the loans Freddie Mac has purchased in 2019, 46% came from first-time homebuyers – a two-decade high for the company. According to representatives at online mortgage provider Better.com, the lender has seen a “huge uptick” in first-time homebuyers as well. There’s also been a 200% increase in Generation Z homebuyers (born 1997-2012) and a 500% increase in single female homebuyers aged 30-40. As Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s chief economist, reported yesterday, “The fifty-year low in the unemployment rate, combined with low mortgage rates, has led to increased homebuyer demand this year. Much of this strength is coming from entry-level buyers.”  

Where Have All the Affordable Homes Gone? Housing affordability has been a growing concern in the housing ecosystem, but why is it such a problem? While home prices have been steadily rising for many years, Nothaft observed, “We find that lower-priced homes have appreciated much, much more than higher-priced homes.” Since May 2018, prices of homes more than 25% above the median have risen 3%, while homes in the lowest tier, those more than 25% below the median, have risen almost 5.5%.  As demand rises on affordable homes, the supply has become increasingly constrained. Nothaft noted, “New construction while picking up gradually over the last few years, is still well below what it was prior to the housing boom.” The current inventory for homes is tightest in the lowest price tiers, particularly in those between 50 and 100 percent of the median home price. On the affordable housing shortage, Nothaft concluded, “I don’t see that changing any time soon unless we find ways to reduce the cost of producing or delivering lower-priced homes into the marketplace and reducing some of the regulatory costs.” In the meantime, with demand rising on an increasingly scarce product, we can expect prices to continue rising on affordable homes for the foreseeable future.

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