- Data from the National Association of Realtors shows that home prices are up 37% since March 2020
- Meanwhile, total home sales are down 8.6% year-over-year and 3.4% month-over-month in May
- Moody’s Analytics data suggests that the average home is overvalued by 24.7%, with prices surging four times faster than incomes
- As homebuyers are continually priced out of the market, many investors and homeowners worry a housing crash could be around the corner
Monday, the S&P 500 Index closed down 18.7% YTD, hovering near last week’s bear market territory. Meanwhile, the Nasdaq Composite remains down about 27% for the year, while the Dow trundles along at a 14% loss. In other words, much of the market is in or near bear country, with no reprieve in sight for stocks that have had their prices slashed from January’s peaks.
And now, investors and homeowners worry that the housing market could follow suit.
Data from the National Association of Realtors (NAR) shows that betweenMay 2021 and May 2022, existing home prices soared nearly 15%. Since March 2020, they’re up 37%. Meanwhile, median home prices topped $400,000 for the first time.
While high prices are good for investors and sellers, they’ve continually pushed lower- and middle-income buyers out of the market. And now, some worry, these same prices that have seen sellers rejoice could catalyze a housing market crash.
Bubbles and Crashes
Asset bubbles occur when demand, speculation and market exuberance run-up prices beyond their fundamentals. The end result? Overpriced assets that remain in demand just as long as buyers remain interested.
According to the Dallas Federal Reserve, real estate bubbles are particularly prickly due to their wide-reaching economic impacts. Housing bubbles often lead to a range of unintended consequences like:
- Distorted investment and purchase patterns
- A misallocation of economic resources
- Ripples that bleed into economic growth and employment
Then, when investors panic, or bankruptcies and foreclosures hit the market, the bubble “pops.” Real estate prices crash, investors struggle to stay profitable and homeowners may find themselves underwater on very expensive loans.
That said, not every bubble necessarily ends in a full-blown crash.
Some markets may experience a correction instead, where home prices gradually drop and then stagnate for months or years.
By contrast, a crash involves a rapid price drop (often accompanied by a wave of foreclosures) that pulls the rug from under the market.
Then and now
Full-blown housing market crashes aren’t as common as you may think. Still, with the Great Recession fresh in many minds, homeowners and investors remain wary.
The Great Recession
The 2007-2008 housing market crash was a unique event born of multiple negligent government, lender and investor practices.
To start, cheap rates and minimal mortgage lending regulation allowed banks to offer subprime loans to unqualified borrowers. Many such loans were even issued without proper paperwork documenting a borrower’s ability to repay.
Meanwhile, investors snapped up “mortgage-backed securities” (MBS) which bundle mortgages as investable assets. As the rates of subprime lending grew, subprime loans comprised a larger share of these securities.
Unfortunately, many homeowners couldn’t make their payments, catalyzing a crisis as banks began foreclosing on defaulting borrowers. In many cases, the banks incurred losses trying to shed declining-value properties. Soon, homeowners fled underwater mortgages left and right, leaving banks holding property that was worth less than the loan against it.
At the same time, MBS investors experienced their own crisis as borrowers defaulted, draining their profits.
Ultimately, the confluence of events birthed a global recession (and tons of new mortgage lending regulations).
Fast forward to 2022
And then we have the current housing boom, which—as you’ll see—has a very different set of causes. Namely: The Covid-19 pandemic.
When the pandemic first set in, the Federal Reserve slashed interest rates to sidestep a recession and encourage spending. At the same time, between government-mandated lockdowns and employee cajoling, many firms instituted new work-from-home policies. Meanwhile, many families threw stimulus funds into savings or paid off their debts.
The combination of stimulus funds, cheap debt and WFH flexibility lured many homeowners to vacate expensive cities. Meanwhile, supply chain snarls and Covid-19 restrictions bogged down new-home construction, tightening supply.
As a result, demand soared. Soon, buyers found themselves competing for the same properties, sending prices skyrocketing as giddy homeowners accepted cash offers often well above the asking price.
Can we rule out a potential housing market crash?
Though we’re no longer in lockdown, the impacts of Covid-19 on the housing market remain. Some worry that means a housing crash could be just around the corner.
To start, recent Census Bureau data shows that home sales have declined four months in a row. New single-family home sales alone plunged 16.6% between March and April. And in May, total home sales dropped 3.4% month-over-month and 8.6% from a year ago. All told, June’s unsold, existing-home inventory rose to 1.16 million units.
But while sales dropped, prices haven’t followed suit. In fact, May marked a new record, with the median price of a new house nearing $450,000. At the same time, the average sales price of all housing topped $511,000.
If you think that sounds high, you’re not alone. Earlier this year, Moody’s Analytics reported that U.S. home prices remain overvalued by an average of 24.7%. In March, the Dallas Fed warned that housing sales prices have outpaced rental prices, suggesting “unsustainably inflated” values.
And it’s not just how expensive housing is—it’s how fast it got there. In the past year alone, home prices have surged four times faster than incomes. At the same time, mortgage interest rates have climbed from 3% in January to 6.4% by the end of June, more than doubling the cost to borrow.
All in all, the numbers point to poor prospects for the housing markets. Sky-high inflation, surging interest rates and limited inventory have priced many homebuyers out of the market. With homeowners needing to extend themselves further to get on the property ladder, the bubble could burst if economic factors lead to lower incomes or higher mortgage rates
Crucial differences between 2008 and 2022
However, the general consensus among economists is that while a housing market crash is possible, it’s not likely.
To start, the market’s current foundations remain far more stable than they were 14 years ago. Stricter lending criteria and robust homebuyer protections mean that the bulk of modern mortgages are paid on time. The second half of 2021 saw the average homebuyer apply with a record high average credit score of 786.
Additionally, delinquencies remain around 3%, and the first quarter of 2022 saw just 78,000 foreclosure filings. (By contrast, 10 million Americans lost their homes between 2006 and 2010, with 3.1 million foreclosure filings in 2008 alone.)
Similarly, homeowners now hold a remarkable $28 trillion in home equity compared to the often-negative home equity owned in 2008. And JPMorgan notes that modern homeowners haven’t incurred nearly the same levels of debt seen prior to 2008.
At the same time, housing inventories, though on the rise, remain near all-time lows. Last September, NAR
Meanwhile, builders, citing rising costs and slowing demand, have pulled back on production. (The opposite was true in the lead-up to the Great Recession.)
The most likely scenario
Still, a robust housing market doesn’t mean there’s no room for a price decline. The distinction: most economists believe that a correction, not a crash, is in order.
For instance, the Dallas Fed reports that while real house prices exceed their fundamentals, they see “no expectation that fallout from a housing correction would be comparable to the 2007-09 Global Financial Crisis in terms of magnitude or macroeconomic gravity.”
Doug Duncan, chief economist at Fannie Mae
Bankrate’s chief financial analyst Greg McBride concurs, noting: “Real estate prices can move in big spurts—like now—and then show relatively little change over a period of years. A plateauing of prices is the more likely outcome.”
But what counts as a “correction,” anyway?
Matthew Pointon, a senior property economist at Capital Economics, believes that a 5% decline by mid-2023 is a reasonable target. And NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun agrees that “minor price declines” of up to 5% are likely—and healthy for an “overpriced” market.
Don’t let the specter of a housing market crash get you down
In the current climate, a national housing market crash seems unlikely, though not out of the question. That leaves many real estate investors wondering: to invest or to wait?
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