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Four Factors to Watch in Housing’s Rebound
Nick Timiraos / The Wall Street Journal / September 16, 2013
For the past year, more U.S. housing markets have had the feel of a blowout flea-market sale.
Prices were low and financing—while hard to get—was cheap for those who could get it. Once it was clear prices had found a bottom, bidding wars broke out as buyers competed over a shrinking supply of homes to get a good deal.
That sent prices up—sharply, in many markets—and for a while, buyers didn’t much mind. Falling interest rates made it possible for buyers to offer slightly higher prices without raising their monthly ownership costs.
But now, mortgage rates are up by a full percentage point over the past four months, and affordability has taken a hit, prompting concerns about a short-term “soft patch” as buyers and sellers adjust. Here’s a look at four keys to the housing puzzle:
1. Housing became less affordable in a short span. Typically in a recovery, sales pick up and then prices follow. But the current recovery has been “flip-flopped,” said Ivy Zelman, chief executive of Zelman & Associates Inc., a research and advisory firm. “We’ve had pricing accelerate out of the box” as builders took advantage of rising demand and low interest rates while adding little in the way of new construction. “That’s not typical of an upturn.”
Now, with prices up by double-digits from one year ago, rising rates have been “almost like a red light on the frantic price inflation,” said Ms. Zelman. A Zelman report last week showed that new home orders in August rose by just 1% from one year earlier, compared to year-over-year gains of 11% in July and 25% during the second quarter. “I hear more often now from builders, ‘We pushed prices too far,’” she said. “Consumers got sticker shock.”