Housing Market Trends
After several years of unmistakably good times, today’s housing market is giving off mixed signals. The number of pending home sales fell each of the first 10 months of 2018, a trend likely to continue in 2019, according to the National Association of Realtors. The Washington, D.C.-based trade group also now forecasts prices will rise only about 2.5 percent in 2019, not 4.7 percent as previously estimated.
Despite these downbeat indicators, the long-term residential housing outlook remains favorable, said Charlie Young, chief executive officer of international residential real estate franchisor Coldwell Banker, based in Madison, New Jersey.
“We may in fact be seeing a slight slowing of the market,” Young said. “But we’re overall fairly positive about the outlook. Consumer confidence remains high. Consumer demand for housing remains high. Unemployment is low. Those are the things that drive housing.”
So why is the housing market cooling? In a word: Rates. Interest rates for 30-year mortgage loans have risen from an average of below 4 percent for the last decade to around 4.5 percent at press time.
As interest rates rise, the monthly payment for loans increases as well. Higher payments make it harder for prospective homebuyers to qualify for loans. The continued rise in home prices potentially increases payments further, possibly putting home ownership out of the reach of more would-be buyers.
Young said, however, that it’s important to keep interest rate movements in perspective. “Interest rates are still at historically low levels,” he pointed out.
As to whether right now is a good time to buy or sell a home, Young says it’s both. “If you’re trying to sell your home, the buyers in the current market are serious buyers,” he said.
Interest rates are expected to continue to rise, which may also prompt homebuyers to act now. And for both buyers and sellers, the basic economic supports for a healthy residential real estate market are in place. Unemployment is low, jobs are plentiful and consumer confidence is high.
Most importantly of all, demand for housing remains strong. That’s because the population keeps growing and people keep getting married, having kids and otherwise reaching stages in their lives when they are looking to buy or sell a home.
“People buy and sell homes because they’ve had a change in their lives,” Young said. “That’s really what drives decision making in real estate.”
News about interest rates and other real estate-related matters can be difficult to interpret for many consumers, especially when the news is national and the real estate market is local. That’s where a licensed real estate agent can come in handy. Young suggests relying on their help for a smooth process — whether you’re buying or selling.
“You want somebody that has a good listing track record for selling homes in the price range you’re interested in,” Young said. “They’re going to know what’s happening in the marketplace.”
What percentage of your income should you be spending on your mortgage? To qualify for most mortgage loans, you should spend no more than 43 percent of your gross monthly income on all monthly debt payments. That includes mortgage, auto, credit card, student and other loans. Don’t include utilities, groceries, entertainment and other costs. And note that this refers to your gross monthly income, before taxes are taken out. Also, some lenders may require a lower percentage of debt to income.