December 14, 2018

Why the Housing Market Is Slumping Despite a Booming Economy

In contrast with the stock market, where relatively unemotional traders are buying and selling shares every day and the market stays liquid, home purchase and sales decisions can take months and are deeply emotional for the participants.

What seems to be happening is that sellers are trying to cling to the spring 2018 prices that their neighbors received, while there aren’t enough buyers in late 2018 willing or able to pay those prices.

In a Fannie Mae survey of home purchase sentiment, the proportion of people who think it is a good time to buy a home has decreased significantly since the spring, to a net 21 percent from 29 percent. But so has the proportion who think it is a good time to sell, which has dropped to 35 percent from 45 percent.

You would expect, in a zero-sum transaction like a home sale, for those numbers to move in opposite directions. Instead, it seems that sellers are unhappily realizing that they aren’t going to get what they thought their house was worth six months ago, and buyers still think homes are too expensive.

That helps explain why transaction volume, especially for new houses, has fallen substantially while prices haven’t (at least yet). It’s a standoff. And the outcome of the standoff will, in the aggregate, play a role in shaping the future of the economy.

There is precedent for this, and it isn’t a happy one. In the last housing boom, new home sales peaked in July 2005, and home prices didn’t start declining until May 2006. It didn’t start to hurt the overall economy until December 2007, when the damage had spread through an overleveraged global financial system.

But that doesn’t mean this episode has to end in tears. Home prices are not nearly as out of line with incomes as they were then; speculative activity hasn’t been nearly as frothy; and consumer debt levels are considerably more measured.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/15/upshot/housing-market-slumping-despite-booming-economy.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

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