Housing affordability in the US is at an eight-year low, according to Attom Data Solutions.
The parent company of RealtyTrac released its fourth-quarter affordability index on Thursday, which dropped to the lowest level since the same period in 2008.
Home prices plunged during the subprime-mortgage crisis that contributed to the 2008 recession. Several high-risk borrowers who had been granted loans became unable to pay, prompting lenders to stop granting risky mortgages, and crushing demand for housing.
The economic recovery and tighter regulations helped heal the market and improve demand. Home values jumped to pre-crisis highs. But wages grew at a much slower pace, worsening affordability, even though mortgage rates were at historical lows.
And now, mortgage rates are rising again. According to Freddie Mac, the average rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage hit a two-year high of 4.3% this week. That was up from 4.16% last week, when the Federal Reserve raised its benchmark interest rate and signalled that it expected to hike in the new year more times than it previously thought.
Mortgage rates are still near historic lows, so the housing market is not seeing much of an impact yet. Some prospective buyers could rush to lock in the lowest rates possible in the next few months, according to the National Association of Realtors.
“The prospect of further interest rate hikes in 2017 will likely cause further deterioration of home affordability next year,” said Daren Blomquist, senior vice president at Attom, in a statement.
“Absent a strong resurgence in wage growth, that will put downward pressure on home price appreciation in many local markets,” Blomquist said.
Two other reports on Thursday showed that housing affordability could become an even bigger issue in 2017. The Home Price Index from the Federal Housing Finance Agency showed that year-over-year, home prices rose by 6.2% in the third quarter, a record high. And, home values rose 6.5% in the year through November, the fastest pace since 2006, according to Zillow.
As with the prior housing crisis, strong buyer demand is fuelling this price rally. This time, however, a shortage of inventory is also pumping up values.
“Rampant real estate speculation and loose mortgage credit have been replaced by the sound economic fundamentals we are seeing now,” said Svenja Gudell, Zillow’s chief economist. Right now, the big concern is whether wages can keep up with rising house prices as mortgage rates also go up.
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