This Real Estate Market Is the Strongest of Our Lifetime
When you look at the numbers today, the one thing that stands out is the strength of this housing market. We can see this is one of the most foundationally strong housing markets of our lifetime – if not the strongest housing market of our lifetime. Here are two fundamentals that prove this point.
1. The Current Mortgage Rate on Existing Mortgages
First, let’s look at the current rate on existing mortgages. According to the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), as of the fourth quarter of last year, over 80% of existing mortgages have a rate below 5%. That’s significant. And, to take that one step further, over 50% of mortgages have a rate below 4% (see graph below):
Now, there’s a lot of talk in the media about a potential foreclosure crisis or a rise of homeowners defaulting on their loans, but consider this. Homeowners with such good mortgage rates are going to work as hard as they can to keep that mortgage and stay in their homes. That’s because they can’t go out and buy another house, or even rent an apartment, and pay what they do today. Their current mortgage payment is more affordable. Even if they downsize, with today’s higher mortgage rates, it could cost more.
Here’s why this gives the housing market such a solid foundation today. Having so many homeowners with such low mortgage rates helps us avoid a crisis with a flood of foreclosures coming to market like there was back in 2008.
2. The Amount of Homeowner Equity
Second, Americans are sitting on tremendous equity right now. According to the Census and ATTOM, roughly two-thirds (around 68%) of homeowners have either paid off their mortgage or have at least 50% equity (see chart below):
In the industry, the term for this is equity rich. This is significant because if you think back to 2008, some people had to make the difficult decision to walk away from their homes because they owed more on the home than it was worth.
But this time, things are different because homeowners have built up so much equity over the past few years alone. And, when homeowners have that much equity, it helps us avoid another wave of distressed properties coming onto the market like we saw during the crash. It also creates an extremely strong foundation for today’s housing market.
We are in one of the most foundationally strong housing markets of our lifetime because homeowners are going to fight to keep their current mortgage rate and they have a tremendous amount of equity. This is yet another reason things are fundamentally different than in 2008.
The Main Reason Mortgage Rates Are So High
Today’s mortgage rates are top-of-mind for many homebuyers right now. As a result, if you’re thinking about buying for the first time or selling your current house to move into a home that better fits your needs, you may be asking yourself these two questions:
- Why Are Mortgage Rates So High?
- When Will Rates Go Back Down?
Here’s context you need to help answer those questions.
1. Why Are Mortgage Rates So High?
The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is largely influenced by the supply and demand for mortgage-backed securities (MBS). According to Investopedia:
“Mortgage-backed securities (MBS) are investment products similar to bonds. Each MBS consists of a bundle of home loans and other real estate debt bought from the banks that issued them . . . The investor who buys a mortgage-backed security is essentially lending money to home buyers.”
Demand for MBS helps determine the spread between the 10-Year Treasury Yield and the 30-year fixed mortgage rate. Historically, the average spread between the two is 1.72 (see chart below):
Last Friday morning, the mortgage rate was 6.85%. That means the spread was 3.2%, which is almost 1.5% over the norm. If the spread was at its historical average, mortgage rates would be 5.37% (3.65% 10-Year Treasury Yield + 1.72 spread).
This large spread is very unusual. As George Ratiu, Chief Economist at Keeping Current Matters (KCM), explains:
“The only times the spread approached or exceeded 300 basis points were during periods of high inflation or economic volatility, like those seen in the early 1980s or the Great Financial Crisis of 2008-09.”
The graph below uses historical data to help illustrate this point by showing the few times the spread has increased to 300 basis points or more:
The graph shows how the spread has come down after each peak. The good news is, that means there’s room for mortgage rates to improve today.
So, what’s causing the larger spread and making mortgage rates so high today?
The demand for MBS is heavily influenced by the risks associated with investing in them. Today, that risk is impacted by broader market conditions like inflation and fear of a potential recession, the Fed’s interest rate hikes to try to bring down inflation, headlines that create unnecessarily negative narratives about home prices, and more.
Simply put: when there’s less risk, demand for MBS is high, so mortgage rates will be lower. On the other hand, if there’s more risk with MBS, demand for MBS will be low, and we’ll see higher mortgage rates as a result. Currently, demand for MBS is low, so mortgage rates are high.
2. When Will Rates Go Back Down?
Odeta Kushi, Deputy Chief Economist at First American, answers that question in a recent blog:
“It’s reasonable to assume that the spread and, therefore, mortgage rates will retreat in the second half of the year if the Fed takes its foot off the monetary tightening pedal and provides investors with more certainty. However, it’s unlikely that the spread will return to its historical average of 170 basis points, as some risks are here to stay.”
The spread will shrink when the fear investors feel is eased. That’ll mean we should see mortgage rates moderate as the year goes on. However, when it comes to forecasting mortgage rates, no one can know for sure exactly what will happen.