Home prices moved up at a torrid pace during the first half of the year, but don’t expect them to keep pace during the second half.
The big spike in mortgage rates over the past two months has reset the housing market and figures to take a bite out of demand at a time when more sellers have listed homes for sale and when price gains have tested investors’ purchasing appetites.
Mortgage rates, which stood at a low of 3.59% at the beginning of May, jumped to 4.58% during the last week of June, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. Rates rose even more last Friday, after a strong jobs report firmed up investors’ expectations that the Federal Reserve would begin to curtail its bond-buying program later this year.
A rule of thumb holds that every one percentage point increase in interest rates reduces affordability by 10%, so the recent move in rates just made homes about 10% more expensive to buyers who need to finance their purchase.
“There’s no one in the business right now who doesn’t think the market hasn’t taken a step back. The evidence is all around us,” said Glenn Kelman, chief executive of real-estate brokerage Redfin. The number of Redfin customers who requested tours during the last week of June was down 5% from the average for the previous three weeks, while the number of customers making offers was down by 8% and the number of new customers edged down by 2%.
Here’s a look at seven areas to watch during the second half of 2013:
1. What will higher mortgage rates do to housing demand? Rates are now at their highest level in two years. For borrowers with less than a 5% down payment, the effective mortgage rate is at its highest level since mid-2009 because loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration now carry higher annual insurance premiums.
Economists say that even at a 4.5% or 5% mortgage rate, housing is still affordable by historical standards. Analysts at Bank of America BAC +1.05% Merrill Lynch note that prices would have to rise by 20% or rates would have to climb to around 6% before housing would look unaffordable. Also, they say that housing demand is shaped heavily by expectations of future affordability. That is, homeowners may be more eager to buy at a 4.5% mortgage rate when prices are rising than they were two years ago, when rates were lower but demand was soft because prices were falling.
But the bad news is that the level of rates may matter less than the speed of any increase. A sharp spike in interest rates—even to a level that is still historically low—represents a large payment shock to home shoppers. Many buyers shop for a home based on their monthly mortgage payment, which just shot up. The monthly payment on a $200,000 home with a 10% down payment just went up by $100 every month, almost a 13% increase. The monthly cost of a $450,000 home just went up by $250.
2. Don’t higher mortgage rates help in the short run by bringing more buyers off the fence? Not really. There’s little evidence that higher rates create new demand, even if they accelerate purchases from households that had already decided to purchase. Pending home sales in May rose sharply by 6.7% from April to their highest level in six years, but that spike could easily be reversed in June and July.