Freddie: Rising Mortgage Rates Chip Away at Affordability

The majority of housing markets remain affordable to the average family, but rising mortgage rates and rising housing prices are causing more families to have to stretch financially, according to Freddie Mac’s U.S. Economic and Housing Market Outlook for December.

“Rising mortgage rates and rising housing prices over the past six months are making it more challenging for the typical family to purchase a home without stretching beyond their means, especially in the Northeast and along the Pacific Coast,” says Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac’s chief economist. “Like most, we expect mortgage rates to rise over the coming year, so it's critical we start to see more job gains and income growth in the coming year. This will help to keep payment-to-income ratios in balance -- an important factor not only for first-time buyers but for sustaining homeownership levels among existing owners."

According to Freddie Mac’s report, more than 70 percent of the nation’s housing stock remained affordable to the typical family in the third quarter at a 4.4 percent interest rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage. However, that percentage decreases to about 63 percent at a 5 percent mortgage rate;  55 percent at a 6 percent interest rate; and 35 percent at a 7 percent interest rate.

Source: Freddie Mac

Returning Real Estate Market

Markets in 54 out of the approximately 350 metro areas nationwide returned to or exceeded their last normal levels of economic and housing activity, according to the National Association of Home Builders/First American Leading Markets Index (LMI), released today. The index’s nationwide score of .86 indicates that, based on current permits, prices and employment data, the nationwide market is running at 86 percent of normal economic and housing activity.

The LMI figures for November showed that 55 housing markets were operating at or above their last normal levels and the nationwide market was operating at 85 percent of normal growth.
LMI data for the two months were released simultaneously because of the delay in collecting data during the partial government shutdown in October.

“This index shows that most housing markets across the nation are continuing a slow, gradual climb back to normal levels,” said NAHB Chairman Rick Judson, a home builder from Charlotte, N.C. “Policymakers must guard against actions that could impede or even reverse the modest gains of the past year.”

Noting that smaller metros accounted for most of the 54 markets on the current LMI that are at or above normal levels, NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe said that “smaller markets are leading the way, particularly where energy is the primary economic driver. Nearly half of the markets in the top 54 are in the energy states of Texas, Louisiana, North Dakota, Wyoming and Montana.”

“The fact that more than 125 markets on this month’s LMI are showing activity levels of at least 90 percent of previous norms bodes well for a continuing housing recovery in 2014,” said Kurt Pfotenhauer, vice chairman of First American Title Insurance Co., which co-sponsors the LMI report.

Baton Rouge, La., tops the list of major metros on the LMI, with a score of 1.42 – or 42 percent better than its last normal market level. Other major metros at the top of the list include Honolulu, Oklahoma City, Austin and Houston, Texas, as well as Pittsburgh – all of whose LMI scores indicate that their market activity now exceeds previous norms.

Looking at smaller metros, both Odessa and Midland, Texas, boast LMI scores of 2.0 or better, meaning that their markets are now at double their strength prior to the recession. Also at the top of the list of smaller metros are Casper, Wyo.; Bismarck, N.D.; and Grand Forks, N.D., respectively.
The LMI shifts the focus from identifying markets that have recently begun to recover, which was the aim of a previous gauge known as the Improving Markets Index, to identifying those areas that are now approaching and exceeding their previous normal levels of economic and housing activity.

More than 350 metro areas are scored by taking their average permit, price and employment levels for the past 12 months and dividing each by their annual average over the last period of normal growth. For single-family permits and home prices, 2000-2003 is used as the last normal period, and for employment, 2007 is the base comparison. The three components are then averaged to provide an overall score for each market; a national score is calculated based on national measures of the three metrics. An index value above one indicates that a market has advanced beyond its previous normal level of economic activity.

Editor’s Note: In calculating the LMI, NAHB utilizes employment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, house price appreciation data from Freddie Mac and single-family housing permits from the U.S. Census Bureau. The LMI is published on the fourth working day of each month, unless that day falls on a Friday -- in which case, it is released on the following Monday.

For historical information and charts, please go to

2013 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers

Earlier this year a 122-question survey from NAR was mailed out to thousands of homebuyers and sellers across the U.S. The survey gives a profile of home buyers and sellers that covers everything from buying, selling, technology, financing, and how consumers interact with their real estate agents.

Here's  a short analysis of homebuyer characteristics for 2013...

First-time homebuyers still make up a lower-than-average share of total homebuyers, but their not too far behind; in 2013, they’ve made up 38 percent of buyers, down from the historical average of 40 percent.

One surprising faction that is multi-generational homebuyers, who made up 14 percent of all purchases; such purchases were made to account for college graduates living with their parents, aging parents living with their children and cost savings.

The median income for households was $83,300, while for first-time buyers and repeat buyers, it was $64,400 and $96,000, respectively.

Interestingly, despite those seemingly high income levels, 66 percent of recent homebuyers were married couples, the highest such share since 2001.

The typical homebuyer was 42 years old, while the typical first-time homebuyer was 31 and the typical repeat buyer 52.

Finally, the simple desire to own a home remains potent among American consumers – 30 percent of recent homebuyers said it was their primary reason for buying a home.

Update on the Housing Market for Active 55+ Homeowners

Builder confidence in the 55+ housing market showed continued improvement in the third quarter of 2013 compared to the same period a year ago, according to the National Association of Home Builders’ (NAHB) latest 55+ Housing Market Index (HMI) released today. All segments of the market—single-family homes, condominiums and multifamily rental—registered strong increases. The single-family index increased 14 points to a level of 50, which is the highest third-quarter number since the inception of the index in 2008 and the eighth consecutive quarter of year over year improvements.

“We have seen steady improvement in the 55+ housing sector as buyers and renters are attracted to new homes and communities that offer the lifestyle they desire” said Robert Karen, chairman of NAHB’s 50+ Housing Council and managing member of the Symphony Development Group. “Although the market is significantly stronger than it has been in recent years, we still have a ways to go to get back to full production.”

There are separate 55+ HMIs for two segments of the 55+ housing market: single-family homes and multifamily condominiums. Each 55+ HMI measures builder sentiment based on a survey that asks if current sales, prospective buyer traffic and anticipated six-month sales for that market are good, fair or poor (high, average or low for traffic). An index number below 50 indicates that more builders view conditions as poor than good.

All of the components of the 55+ single-family HMI showed considerable growth from a year ago: present sales climbed 16 points to 52, expected sales for the next six months rose 11 points to 53 and traffic of prospective buyers increased 10 points to 43.

The 55+ multifamily condo HMI posted a gain of 14 points to 37, which is the highest third-quarter reading since the inception of the index. All 55+ multifamily condo HMI components increased compared to a year ago as present sales increased 15 points to 37, expected sales for the next six months climbed 11 points to 40 and traffic of prospective buyers rose 13 points to 35. The 55+ multifamily rental indices also showed strong gains in the third quarter as present production increased 17 points to 48, expected future production rose 15 points to 50, current demand for existing units climbed 18 points to 60 and future demand increased 16 points to 60.

“Right now the positive year over year increase in confidence by builders for the 55+ market is tracking right along with other segments of the home building industry,” said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. “And like other segments of the industry, the 55+ market is improving in part because consumers are more likely to be able to sell their current homes, which allows them to buy a new home or move into an apartment that suits their specific needs.”

For the full 55+ HMI tables, please visit

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Home Housing Forecast for 2014

Lawrence Yun, chief economist of the National Association of Realtors®, said existing-home sales have shown a 20 percent cumulative increase over the past two years, while prices have gained 18 percent, but incomes have risen only 2 to 4 percent in the same timeframe.

“We’ve come off of record high housing affordability conditions in the past year, and are now at a five-year low, but conditions are still the fifth best in the past 40 years,” Yun said. “While the median-income family in many areas will still be well positioned to buy a home in 2014, income is barely budging given growth in consumer prices.”

Yun said the other headwinds moving forward include limited inventory conditions in many areas and mortgage lending standards that are still unnecessarily stringent. “Although home sales have recovered over the past two years, mortgage purchase applications have been flat for the past four years, even with rising sales,” he said.

With higher mortgage interest rates, he expects refinancings to collapse in 2014 to the lowest level in at least 15 years, and hopes purchase applications will begin to rise. “This is an incentive for banks to increase mortgage origination, especially considering the low default rates in recent years. But even with cheap mortgages for the past four years, all-cash buyers stayed high, accounting for over 30 percent of sales,” Yun noted.

Beyond bank motivation, Yun said Washington policies for mortgage lending have been too restrictive. He cited rising fees for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, higher Federal Housing Administration premiums, as well as Dodd-Frank banking regulations, which have been strangling community banks. In addition, Yun said banks are holding onto funds for potential Department of Justice lawsuits, rather than making them available to mortgage borrowers.

He said job creation, and hopefully a relaxation in stringent lending standards, will offset higher mortgage interest rates. Existing-home sales this year are forecast to rise 10 percent to nearly 5.13 million, but should hold fairly even at about 5.12 million in 2014.

Limited supplies were the biggest factor in price performance in the past year, with inventory bouncing around 13-year lows, and seriously delinquent mortgages have been trending steadily down. The national median existing-home price for all of 2013 will be up just over 11 percent, to about $197,000; then increase nearly 6 percent next year.

Yun expects the inventory shortages to be felt again next spring. “Housing starts are the only way to alleviate inventory shortages,” he said. “Housing starts need to rise 50 percent to meet underlying demand.”
Housing starts are forecast to hit 917,000 this year and reach 1.13 million in 2014, which is still well below the underlying demand of about 1.5 million. New-home sales are likely to total 429,000 in 2013, and grow to 508,000 next year.

Inflationary pressure may begin to build during the course of 2014, with consumer prices projected to rise 2.7 percent, but Yun said inflation could reach 4 to 6 percent in 2015.  Mortgage interest rates are expected to trend upward and reach 5.4 by the end of next year.

Yun projects growth in Gross Domestic Product to be 1.7 percent this year and 2.5 percent in 2014. “If not for the housing recovery, we could be on the verge of a recession,” Yun noted. “The rent component of inflation is rising, so the only way to tame price growth is new home inventory.”

Since the economic downturn, 8.8 million jobs were lost, but only 7 million have been regained. “We need another 6 to 8 million jobs to get back to normal,” Yun said. The states with the fastest job growth are North Dakota, Utah Idaho, Texas, Colorado, Minnesota, Georgia, Washington, Arizona and New Jersey. The unemployment rate is projected to decline to about 6.7 percent around the end of next year.

Source: The National Association of Realtors®,