With real estate, it’s traditional to say, “location, location, location,” but what we should really say is “prices, mortgages, and demand.” The home price point that sparks agreement between a willing seller and a willing buyer suggests market value, as long as the buyer can obtain a mortgage and the lender’s appraiser supports the value.
In most markets, the news so far for 2014 is too few homes on the market and buyers competing against one another for the homes that are available. While overall home prices and sales are generally stronger than a year ago, real estate professionals’ fingers are crossed on the market’s strength carrying beyond the first quarter of 2014. Are markets with too many offers over the asking price creating bubbles? Have prices increased enough to pull owners above water? Have mortgages been too difficult to obtain?
The housing market has almost always followed the mortgage market. For a strong buyers’ market to occur, not only do interest rates have to be low enough to match incomes, but mortgages have to be available. An April 9, 2014 article in the Wall Street Journal’s “Market Watch” reports that mortgage availability is the best in three years. This news follows notification from Wells Fargo and others that lower FICO scores than only a few months ago will be acceptable. And only few days ago, the rate for a 30-year mortgage dropped to 4.14%.
That takes us back to prices, which have been on an upward trend. But pricing may have stalled a bit. While the 4.14% mortgage interest rate is very good by historical standards, it’s higher than rates were last fall, when prices began increasing in response to pent-up buyer demand. In a market trying to heal, and where buyers’ monthly incomes are fixed, high rates and high prices can’t co-exist. One of the other has to drop.
In fact, both did de-accelerate, which led to the market we’re in now—better than it was six or eight months ago for both buyers and sellers. Sales of new homes rebounded in April. Sales of existing homes ramped up as well, but only on a month-over-month basis. They’re still off from a year ago, but the monthly performance may signal a change in direction.
Residential appraisers don’t like market volatility. Our most useful measurement in determining market value for a lender is the comparable sale (comp), and if the comps on a home with multiple offers are lower than the accepted offer, which they generally are, it becomes challenging to come up with an accurate appraised value for a buyer’s lender.
While the past few months may have hinted at volatility, what the market seems to be seeing is an inch-by-inch movement to health and stability, with prices moving up until they meet buyer resistance, affordable mortgages slowly becoming more available, and overall pricing pulling a few more owners into selling.