The real estate market is soaring today. Residential home values are rising, and that’s a big win for homeowners. In 2020, there was a double-digit increase in home values – a trend that’s expected to head toward similar levels this year.
However, skyrocketing prices are causing some to start questioning affordability in the current housing market. Many are quick to emphasize the fact that homes today are less affordable than they were last year. Black Knight, a leading provider of data and analytics across the homeownership life cycle, just reported on the issue.
The findings show the historical averages of the national payment to income ratio, which they define as “the share of the median income needed to make the monthly payments on the median-priced home.” Their study reveals:
- The average over the last 25 years was 23.6%
- The average over the last 5 years was 20.1%
- The average today stands at 20.5%
Right now, housing payments are slightly less affordable than the five-year average – but only by less than ½ a percentage point. However, they’re significantly more affordable than the 25-year average. Put another way, a buyer will likely make a slightly greater financial sacrifice to afford a home right now than if they purchased a home within the last five years. On the other hand, it also means the potential financial sacrifice is not nearly as great as it was over the last 25 years.
Does making a sacrifice to buy a home today make financial sense in the long term?
Last week, the Federal Reserve announced that, in the first three months of the year, household net worth increased by $968 billion based solely on the values of the real estate they owned. Another report from CoreLogic reveals the average annual gain in homeowner equity was $33,400 per borrower.
Homeownership continues to be the cornerstone to building personal wealth. For most Americans, their home is the largest asset they own. On top of that, the difference between the net worth of homeowners and renters is significant at every income level. Here’s a table detailing that point using data from a study done by First American:
Owning a home is an essential steppingstone to grow a household’s net worth. Despite the slightly greater sacrifice in the percentage of monthly income you’ll spend on housing today, for most homebuyers, the payoff of starting to build equity now will be worth it.
Since prices have risen dramatically over the past 18 months, it’s slightly less affordable to buy a home today than it was a year ago. However, when you consider the equity gain and weigh the long-term benefits of building your net worth, you may question if you can afford not to buy now.
Another issue, of course, is that of getting into the market – it’s no question that with the low housing inventories we’ve been seeing, bidding wars have priced out many first-time buyers who don’t have that first home that helped build equity.
Now is a great time – while prices are still at a major low point, it looks like home availability is starting to go back up.
The major challenge in today’s housing market is that there are more buyers looking to purchase than there are homes available to buy. Simply put, supply can’t keep up with demand. A normal market has a 6-month supply of homes for sale. Anything over that indicates it’s a buyers’ market, but an inventory level below that threshold means we’re in a sellers’ market. Today’s inventory level sits far below the norm.
According to the Existing Home Sales Report from the National Association of Realtors (NAR):
“Total housing inventory at the end of April amounted to 1.16 million units, up 10.5% from March’s inventory and down 20.5% from one year ago (1.46 million). Unsold inventory sits at a 2.4-month supply at the current sales pace, slightly up from March’s 2.1-month supply and down from the 4.0-month supply recorded in April 2020. These numbers continue to represent near-record lows.”
Basically, while we are seeing some improvement, we’re still at near-record lows for housing inventory (as shown in the graph below). Here’s why:
Since the pandemic began, sellers have been cautious when it comes to putting their homes on the market. At the same time that fewer people are listing their homes, more and more people are trying to buy them thanks to today’s low mortgage rates. The influx of buyers aiming to capitalize on those rates are purchasing this limited supply of homes as quickly as they’re coming to market.
This inventory shortage doesn’t just apply to existing homes that are already built. When it comes to new construction, builders are trying to do their part to bring more newly built homes into the market. However, due to challenges with things like lumber supply, they’re also not able to keep up with demand. In their Monthly New Residential Sales report, the United States Census Bureau states:
“The seasonally‐adjusted estimate of new houses for sale at the end of April was 316,000. This represents a supply of 4.4 months at the current sales rate.”
Sam Khater, Chief Economist at Freddie Mac, elaborates:
“In the span of five decades, entry level construction fell from 418,000 units per year in the late 1970s to 65,000 in 2020.
While in 2020 only 65,000 entry-level homes were completed, there were 2.38 million first-time homebuyers that purchased homes. Not all renters looking to purchase their first home were in the market for entry-level homes, however, the large disparity illustrates the significant and rapidly widening gap between entry-level supply and demand.”
Despite today’s low inventory, there is reason to be optimistic.
Regarding existing home sales, Sabrina Speianu, Senior Economic Research Analyst at realtor.com, explains:
“In May, newly listed homes grew by 5.4% on a year-over-year basis compared to the earlier days of the COVID-19 pandemic last year…
In May, the share of newly listed homes compared to active daily inventory hit a historical high of 44.4%, 17.3 percentage points higher than last year and 15.1 percentage points above typical levels seen in 2017 to 2019. This is a reflection of quickly selling homes and, for buyers, it means that while they can expect fresh new listings every week, they will have to be prepared to move quickly on desirable homes.”
“Builder confidence in the market remains strong due to a lack of resale inventory, low mortgage interest rates, and a growing demographic of prospective home buyers.”
Things are starting to look up for residential real estate inventory. As the country continues to reopen, more houses are likely to be listed for sale. However, as long as buyer demand remains high, it will take time for the balance between supply and demand to truly neutralize.