As Fall 2021 Approaches, Will the Housing Market Cool Off?

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Today’s hot housing market is one of the peculiar outliers to the pandemic (Campisi, Forbes). Housing supply was already low before COVID-19, however it was even further hampered, as lockdowns took place, enticing people to begin looking for new homes. Experts have attributed this to a desire to leave populated cities for better home offices during the pandemic.

The Federal Reserve’s steps in 2020 to keep financial markets liquid and ensure mortgage rates stayed low have continued. The Federal Reserve really deserves tremendous credit for keeping the housing market solidly afloat, virtually throughout the entire pandemic.

Housing prices nationwide, including distressed sales, grew by 17.2% in June 2021 compared with June 2020 (CoreLogic). According to the latest CoreLogic housing market report, that’s a record high. While there have undoubtedly been “hot seller’s markets” in the past, experts argue they don’t quite compare to the current market, where more than 50% of homes for sale have fetched over the asking price (Campisi, Forbes).

We’ve been tracking housing prices for over 20 years, and we’ve never seen anything like this.”

Frank Nothaft, Chief Economist at CoreLogic

Historically, the fall ushers in less competition and thereby better deals, as children return to school and the holidays overtake schedules. But the pandemic altered that trend last year, and many cities are going through double-digit percentage increases in housing prices (Campisi, Forbes).

Are Housing Prices Starting to Slow Down?

While a full-fledged celebration might be too easy, prospective homebuyers can breathe a little easier. Based on predictions from real estate experts, prices are beginning to decelerate in some areas. As more inventory of single-family homes becomes available, investors can expect consumer prices to decrease further. According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), unsold homes rose 3.3% to 1.25 million from May to June this year (National Association of Realtors). Marginally increased inventory isn’t enough to handle demand; it might give buyers hope and potentially buying leverage with more options.

“Mortgage applications have dropped to an 18-month low, and we are seeing some real buyer fatigue in the market. Sellers are responding to lower buyer enthusiasm with price reductions.”

Tamar Asken, Real Estate Agent at Avenue 8, Los Angeles

In Northern Virginia, housing prices increased 10.9% year-over-year (YOY) in June 2021, compared to the same time last year. The more affordable areas of Northern Virginia, like Fairfax City, saw a sharper rise in YOY median housing price gains like 15.1%, compared to their more expensive nearby areas like Falls Church, which experienced a significantly smaller rise of just 3.2% (Andrews, Virginia Business).

“The market in Northern Virginia has slowed significantly during the past month, with fewer offers and longer days on market. While this would be a normal pattern in a typical year, given the intensity of the spring market, it is surprising. It could well be due to an uptick in travel as pandemic restrictions eased.”

Ryan McLaughlin, CEO at the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors (NVAR)

Buyer Behavior is Becoming More Predictable and Rationale

Succinctly, consumers flocked out to the real estate market last year (Lake, Forbes). As demand for houses picked up, interested buyers have pulled out all the stops to outbid the competition.

This caused all sorts of strange and certainly even reckless behavior, including buyers forgoing contingencies in the sales contract meant to protect themselves and their earnest money, which can amount to thousands of dollars (Treece, Forbes). Some buyers were using retirement savings, while others were getting loans, so they could appear to be all-cash buyers.

The good news is that experts seem to agree this “go-for-broke” approach could be declining. Whether it’s because inventory is beginning to ramp up or home prices are flattening, some buyers realize that they might be putting too much on the line. Even Asken says she is noticing that more buyers are now proceeding with caution. Keep in mind she works at a real estate company based in Los Angeles, a notoriously expensive and competitive market.

“I do not see the same level of desperation and urgency we saw a few months ago. After large price increases, many properties just don’t feel like such a good deal anymore.”

– Tamar Asken, Real Estate Agent at Avenue 8, Los Angeles

Mortgage Rates and Housing Price Forecasts for Fall 2021

While history generally indicates that during a fall is when you can get a better deal on real estate, last year contested all trends with enormous housing market sales growth recorded in the fall season. So, are we likely to see a repeat later this year? Some experts claim demand will go back to its usual cooling-off period in the fall, noting the recent expansion of inventory and retreating home prices (Ralph B. McLaughlin, Chief Economist & SVP of Analytics, Haus, Inc.).

“I think it’s absolutely likely that price growth will slow throughout the end of the year, as they’re already slowing from their peak in June. We expect price growth to moderate to the mid-high single digits by December.”

Ralph B. McLaughlin, Chief Economist & SVP of Analytics, Haus, Inc.

Nevertheless, McLaughlin added that he doesn’t expect inventory to recover fully until next spring. This is instructive specifically for current, prospective buyers. The best course of action for patiently waiting buyers is to start getting their finances in order now. Waiting to do that until a deal comes along often means you’ll be too late. This is a good time to work on your credit score. A higher score means lower interest rates, which extends to a lower monthly payment. Keep in mind that as home prices rise, so does your down payment requirement. While we’re yet to see a true “cool off” in the housing market, there is plenty of reason to suspect it will continue to slow down substantially.