Inflation, Interest Rates, Affordability To Shape Housing Market In Q4 And Beyond
From global economic trends to local housing affordability, numerous factors promise to shape the real estate market heading into the final quarter of the year. In general, the economic outlook both globally and within the U.S. remains subdued as we approach 2024, with many forecasters highlighting inflation and monetary policy as the drivers.
The Conference Board has predicted global GDP to grow by 2.9 percent in 2023, slowing to 2.5 percent in 2024. Emerging economies are expected to fare better than the U.S. and Europe, which are both anticipating lackluster performances once all is said and done this year. Although the U.S. economy has been surprisingly resilient in the aftermath of the pandemic, boasting strong employment numbers and healthy consumer spending, the Conference Board is anticipating a short and shallow recession in 2024, largely due to high interest rates, ongoing inflation, mounting consumer debt and dissipated consumer savings.
All of these factors are likely to prey on the housing market as well, and may serve to keep new homebuyers out of a market that has become increasingly unaffordable due to escalating interest rates and stubbornly limited inventory, which has kept prices elevated.
Chilly Q4 housing market
The housing market typically slows in the fourth quarter as buyers step away amid the approaching holidays. However, many industry pundits are predicting housing sales to slow faster than in years past due to the plethora of economic challenges homebuyers are facing.
In its September outlook report, Fannie Mae noted that mortgage origination activity had slowed to levels not seen since 2011.
“The new home market, which showed surprising strength over the first half of 2023, due in part to a limited inventory of existing homes for sale, may now be taking a breather,” Fannie Mae reported. “We forecast total home sales to be around 4.8 million in 2023, which would be the slowest annual pace since 2011 and 4.9 million in 2024. Similarly, our expectation for 2023 mortgage originations was downgraded from $1.60 trillion to $1.56 trillion in 2023 and from $1.92 trillion to $1.88 trillion in 2024.”
Further exacerbating the situation, some buyers are sitting out due to fears that housing has become overvalued and are hesitant to buy a home that may lose its value, if the market should take a sudden downturn. This is a regional reality, however. While the run-up in prices over the past few years in several western cities is ripe for a correction, many markets across much of the country increased at a moderate and sustainable pace, boding well for price stability.
New home sales decline
Despite builder concessions to offset high interest rates, new home sales continued to drop as the summer waned.
Sales of newly built, single-family homes in August fell 8.7% to a 675,000 seasonally adjusted annual rate, according to data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Census Bureau.
“Builders continue to grapple with supply-side concerns in a market with poor levels of housing affordability,” said Alicia Huey, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and a custom home builder and developer from Birmingham, Ala. “Higher interest rates price out demand, as seen in August, but also increase the cost of financing for builder and developer loans, adding another hurdle for building.”
As a result of all of these factors, builder confidence in the market for newly built single-family homes in September fell five points to 40, according to NAHB.
Consumer confidence mixed
With employment numbers on solid ground to date, consumers generally express optimism not only about their own jobs, but about available prospects in the larger market.
On the downside, the Conference Board noted in September that overall consumer confidence fell for the second month in a row in September with consumers expressing concern about rising prices, the volatile political situation and rising interest rates.
Interest rates: The wrench in the gears
Recognizing that the ongoing interest rate hikes are paralyzing the market, NAHB, the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) and National Association of REALTORS (NAR) joined forces in October to ask the Federal Reserve to refrain from further rate hikes.
In their October 10 letter to the Fed, the organizations pointed out that a primary source of inflation has been housing, highlighting that in July alone, shelter inflation was responsible for 90% of the gain for consumer prices.
Rather than exacerbating the problem with higher interest rates, the organizations suggested the federal government should be focused on facilitating the construction of affordable housing.
“Sustained, widespread or further increases in interest rates make this economic goal more challenging by limiting lot development and home construction, exacerbating housing supply, and pricing out millions of households from the goal of homeownership,” the letter said.
In September, MBA SVP and Chief Economist Mike Fratantoni acknowledged that the FOMC is still considering further rate hikes and in addition signaled that much-anticipated rate cuts would come later and slower than anticipated in 2024. But he remained optimistic that 2024 would see a turnaround.
“We expect that inflation will continue to drop closer to the Fed’s target, the job market will continue to slow, and that mortgage rates should begin to reflect that the Fed’s moves in 2024 will be cuts – not further increases,” Fratantoni said in his commentary. “This should provide some relief in terms of better affordability for potential homebuyers.”
Limited affordable housing continues to plague the market overall. In part, homebuilders have begun to scale back the size and scope of amenities in their new builds to try to address the immediate issue of rising interest rates, but those efforts do not address the wider issue that can only be resolved by a concerted effort to address the problem on both the national and community level.
Affordable housing advocates offer several pathways to improved inventory, including incentivizing builders to build more affordable housing, increasing production of manufactured housing, addressing zoning and other restrictions that are preventing the creation of affordable housing where it is most needed, expanding the National Housing Trust Fund, and increasing resources for Federal affordable housing programs. The continued strength of the economy overall bodes well for a brighter 2024 for the housing market. However, the pace of recovery hinges on the FOMC effectively meeting its target to curb inflation, allowing interest rates to retreat. Concurrently, industry groups, local communities, and the federal government must tackle the pressing issue of housing affordability.