What Is the Effect of Today’s Surging Inflation Rates on Real Estate?  

With everything costing more these days, from groceries to gasoline to natural gas, what is the effect on the real estate market?

No doubt, you’ve heard that the year-over-year consumer price index increased by 6.8% in November, the highest increase in 40 years.

You also know that real estate prices and rents have increased too. So how do those statistics compare, and is buying still a better choice than renting?

Home prices have actually increased more than consumer prices over the last year, making real estate ownership the best hedge against inflation. In the Denver metro area (excluding Boulder) as of Sept. 30, 2021, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), the average sold price of homes was $614,800, an increase of 21.5% over the prior year. The average apartment rental price was $1,689 per months, an increase of 12.5% over the prior year. If you had a mortgage, the average monthly cost of ownership of that average home purchase was an astounding $4,126 per month for a single family detached home, making the rental of an average apartment much more affordable.

But, of course, the money you spend on rent is money down the drain, whereas the homeowner may find that the value of his/her home increases by more than the monthly mortgage payment. To me, there’s no comparison to owning vs. renting, but I understand that renting makes sense for many families.

So, what’s the prognosis for home ownership in 2022?  Because of the inflation rate, we can also expect mortgage rates to rise from around 3% to 3.7% in 2022 according to NAR, but if you already own your home, your low interest rate is locked in. Mortgage rates currently average 3.1%, according to Freddie Mac. 

A higher interest rate, however, could affect what you might sell your home for, if that’s in your plans. Compared, however, to the increase in value you’ve already experienced, I don’t think the effect of higher interest rates will be too much of a downer for you, should you choose to sell.

Unless you’ve switched to heat pump heating and cooling and have installed solar panels to generate the electricity, your home heating cost will increase in 2022. The cost of natural gas has already increased by 25%. The nice thing about electricity is that its cost can only increase by a vote of the Public Utilities Commission, and those increases are more gradual.

Gasoline costs have skyrocketed, but, again, the electricity to power EVs has not, and if you installed enough solar panels, you probably pay nothing for your car’s fuel. I suspect that solar installers are doing a good business nowadays. The cost of solar has plummeted, so call an intaller for a quote.

Where’s the Real Estate Market Going in 2021?

As 2020 limps to an end, we face so many unknowns. How bad will Covid-19 get before it’s brought under control? How bad will the wave of evictions be when the moratorium on them expires later this month? How many home owners will be forced into foreclosure? What relief will we get from our lame duck Congress? If Republicans retain control of the U.S. Senate, how much will Joe Biden be able to accomplish? For that matter, will there be a peaceful transfer of power?

Despite these unknowns, I’ll offer here some insights of my own but also share what I’m reading in trade publications and news services.

Realtor.com has released a “2021 housing forecast” that predicts home prices, which have spiked during the pandemic, will continue to rise through 2021, to the detriment of first-time home buyers. The historically low mortgage rates will also tick up in 2021, further reducing affordability. The report predicts a rate of 3.4% by year end — still quite low, but an increase over current rates well below 3%.

To quote realtor.com, “folks shouldn’t hold their breath for a bargain.”

The report predicts that the double-digit appreciation seen nationwide in 2020 will decline to a still high 5.7% in 2021.

That said, there remain “hordes of buyers” who can still buy homes and who are bidding up the prices of the homes that do come on the market.

As I’ve reported previously, the inventory of active listings is not low because sellers are reluctant to sell.  Sellers know that now is the best time to sell. We are seeing record numbers of new listings, but they sell so quickly that the number of active listings remains low. And, of course, that dynamic is creating bidding wars which are driving up prices, beyond what comparable recent sales would justify.

That raises the question of how homes can appraise when they are bid up past their market value. The answer is two-fold.  First of all, the winning bidders are often the ones who waive appraisal, and, secondly, an appraiser has to consider the existence of competing offers in determining market value.  If a home sells for $30,000 over what it should appraise for based on recent sales of comparable properties, but the appraiser is told about losing bids that are as high or nearly as high, those other offers establish market value. Even if the appraisal then comes in below the contract price, the seller is typically able to stand firm, forcing the winning bidder to drop his appraisal objection or make room for buyer #2 to step in at the same price. This is bad news for buyers, but excellent news for sellers.

Getting back to the predictions for 2021, I believe that the Covid-19 effect I have described previously will continue well into 2021 and possibly beyond. That effect is a mass migration from crowded cities with high-rise condo and apartment buildings to single-family neighborhoods throughout Denver and the other metro counties.

That migration will continue to drive down prices in high-rise buildings while driving up prices in townhomes and detached single-family homes.

I should note, since I’m featuring a condo in Belmar Plaza this week, that the Covid-19 effect should not apply to that low-rise (5-story) building. A $690,000 condo there went under contract this week. On multiple visits to my own listing, I can’t recall sharing the elevator with another tenant more than once, and the stairs are an easy option since it’s only on the second floor.

If You’re Surviving Covid-19 Financially, This May Be a Good Time to Buy or Sell

Despite the best efforts of state, local and federal governments, there will surely be people who are suffering financial hardship and have had to put their dreams of homeownership on hold.  I wish them well as they dig themselves out of this terrible situation.

For those who are surviving Covid-19, however, and don’t get sick from it in the coming months, the continued record-low interest rates are making home purchase more attractive and more affordable.

As you’ve no doubt heard, the Federal Reserve has plunged hard into softening the impact of the virus and its attendant effects on the economy by reducing the Fed Funds interest rate used by banks to near zero. While this rate is unrelated to mortgage rates, we are also seeing those rates staying below 4% and approaching 3%, which is propping up the real estate market in a big way.

People who can afford to buy a home and have the income to qualify for a mortgage are getting off the fence. This is evident from how many homes are going under contract quickly, often with competitive bidding.

In the first 10 days of May, there were 2,306 homes within 25 miles of the State Capitol entered on Denver’s MLS. 615 of them were under contract by May 10th. Another 171 homes were entered as “Coming Soon” as of this Tuesday.

May 5-12 Stats within 25 miles of State Capitol

While that’s less than the first 10 days of May 2019, when 3,348 homes were entered on the MLS and 795 of them went under contract by May 10, it’s still an impressive amount of activity, and is probably due in part to the excellent mortgage situation.

Another factor that will stimulate purchasing among the wealthy is that the stock market has recovered more than half of its early losses due to the virus. That makes it more likely that investors would be willing to liquidate stocks to finance a cash purchase of real estate.

In April 2019, about 48% of homes sold at or above their asking price, and 46% of them sold in a week or less. This year’s performance is better. Of the homes that closed during April 2020, about 58% sold at or above their asking price, and about 62% sold in a week or less. Those statistics tell me that we have a pretty active sellers market, which stands in contrast to the gloomy economic situation caused by Covid-19.

It’s hard to believe that the real estate market will tank later this year if it is not tanking already.

I’m seeing that dynamic myself. As of this writing, all my own listings are either under contract or closed, including the Wheat Ridge home featured as “coming soon” a couple weeks ago.  That $550,000 brick ranch was only listed as “active” on the MLS last Tuesday, and showings didn’t begin until Saturday, but our first offer came in on Sunday, and it was under contract at better than full price by Tuesday morning.

The Federal Reserve Raised Interest Rates, Yet Mortgage Rates Plummeted. Why?

If you follow mortgage interest rate fluctuations, you may wonder how mortgage rates can drop despite several increases in the Federal Reserve’s much talked about discount rate over the past year.

The benchmark 30-year mortgage rate plummeted 27 basis points (over 1/4 percent) last week, the biggest weekly drop in a decade, creating a huge affordability window for home buyers and for homeowners considering a mortgage refinance. The last time the benchmark 30-year rate was below this level was Jan. 3, 2018, when it hit 4.10 percent, according to Bankrate’s historical data.

This can be a teachable moment, so I asked one of my preferred lenders, Scott Lagge of Movement Mortgage to explain.

According to Scott, financial markets are complex, and many factors impact interest rates.  What we are experiencing currently is based to a large degree on consumer sentiment.  As consumers, we can have a huge impact on the market based on what we “feel” about where the economy is headed.  If we “feel” the market is getting worse, we hold onto our money, spend less, buy less, and shift our investments from short term to long term investments. Therefore, worries about slowing economic growth can change our behaviors as consumers and as investors.  Investors worried about the economy slowing in the short-term start to shift their money to long-term investments such as bonds, specifically mortgage backed securities (also known as mortgage bonds). This flood of money into mortgage bonds reduces mortgage bond values and rates fall due to an over abundance or supply of bonds.  In essence, it’s supply and demand.

For a more technical explanation, Scott cited this statement from Greg McBride, CFA, Bankrate’s chief financial analyst: “Worries about slowing economic growth — both domestically and abroad — and the inversion of the Treasury yield curve put investors into semi-panic, bringing bond yields still lower after the Fed indicated no more rate hikes in 2019.”

Above is a chart from www.Bankrate.com showing last week’s sudden drop in mortgage interest rates. 

Changes in mortgage rates can affect home prices. To the extent that buyers use mortgage financing, what they can afford to purchase goes up or down. As mortgage rates flirted with 5%, we saw a definite softening of the long-running seller’s market. If these low rates last into the coming weeks, we may see more buyers wanting to resume house hunting and lock in a low mortgage rate.

Scott Lagge invites you to call him at 303-944-8552 if you’d like to see what interest rate you qualify for. Call me at 303-525-1851 if you’d like to go house hunting!