US home price gains slowed slighting in July, as many on Wall Street are speculating that the Federal Reserve will raise rates before the end of the year. The S&P/Case-Shiller 20-City Composite Index rose 5.0% year-over-year, missing analysts’ expectations of a 5.1% increase but still above the 4.8% pace of the prior two years.
The recent surge in real estate demand has pushed home prices near their pre-crisis peak in 2006, which is making it increasingly difficult for new home buyers to enter the market. Home sales fell 0.9% in August from the previous month, according to the National Association of Realtors. That’s the second straight month of declines.
Higher home prices have begged the question by many as to whether the current pace is sustainable, or if there’s reason to fear another massive collapse in real estate.
“There’s always reason to worry [about a coming collapse],” Robert Shiller, Nobel Prize–winning economist and co-creator of the S&P/Case Shiller Index, told Yahoo Finance’s Seana Smith in the video above. But he is quick to point out one stark difference between today’s housing market and that of 2006. “We’re in a holding pattern right now … People are less excited about buying because they themselves don’t believe [home prices] will be going up a lot. Back in 2006, when the homeownership rate was setting records, people had extravagant expectations.”
His comments on Americans’ hesitation to buy echo the findings of a recent study byPulsenomics, which found that just 38% of renters surveyed think now is a good time to buy. Today, home values have reached or surpassed peak levels in about a quarter of US markets.
How rising rates could impact the housing market
While prospective buyers continue to benefit from relatively low borrowing costs, the big question is whether a series of rate hikes will increase mortgage rates and prompt a fallout in the housing sector. Fed funds futures suggests a roughly 57% chance of higher US interest rates by December, according to data from CME Group.
Shiller says it’s very difficult to forecast how the housing market will react to rising rates but is quick to point out that even in an uncertain environment, rate hikes shouldn’t be a factor for potential buyers.
“The Fed raised [rates] in December just a quarter of one percent, and plausibly they’ll raise [rates] by another quarter or a half percent, and it may not be a big deal,” said Shiller. “On the other hand, it might be a big deal because we’re in this strange period of near zero interest rates, and if people see it as a major turning point, it could affect home prices … My opinion is if you want a house, go out and buy it. It’s not an extremely unusual time. There are always risks.