Low Mortgage Rates Are Killing the Real Estate Industry

Source: Wolf Street

“Mortgage Rates need to go up. There it is. They do. These rates are killing the industry. The DC Real Estate Market is the Poster Child for why interest rates need to go up.”

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Since the beginning of this year, I have lost two clients to the decision to rent for another year. I have written 11 contracts for would-be home buyers, and I have only been able to secure two of those contracts. I promise this is not because I’m a horrible agent. It is because I have a conscience, and I don’t let clients do stupid things on my watch.

The bidding wars are insane and when the going gets tough, I advise people to take their money and keep looking. I realize that steering people away from buying houses and wishing rates would go up makes me the anti-Agent, but flying with the pack is overrated.

It is profoundly problematic for interest rates to stay so low for this long. The primary reason is that it shifts demand and supply into different time frames instead of letting the economy adjust and self-correct.

Buyers live in “today,” and if they think rates will go up, they panic. If rates tick up an eighth of a point, they feel robbed and cheated. They lament the fact that they didn’t get the house they bid on last week. Then, a few days pass, and rates drop back down, and they kick up their feet and start singing again. They run back out to see more houses. Feeling the looming threat of a rate increase again, they scramble to buy something – anything, just to lock in the low rate. Operating solely out of fear of a rate hike, they become desperate. They make the mistake of overpaying.

We see it every single day, but it bears repeating: low rates encourage desperate buyers to bid prices up, sometimes to an unrealistic number. The demand of the future is effectively robbed because next year’s home buyer is buying now.

That desperate buyer out there? They are not the only one. There are plenty of others, competing for homes and driving prices up, all in the name of interest rates and not necessarily because of real need. Many of these buyers will get homes that need work, are imperfect, are not in desirable areas, because it was all they could get, and they wanted to lock in while the rates were low.

Instead of a balanced market where these less than desirable homes sell for lower prices, the low rates make even the duds look better. Two more problems stem from this scenario.

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First, these homes will still be duds in several years unless the location magically improves or the owner renovates to make the home more desirable. When markets are more balanced, buyers aren’t interested in these homes if they can get one in a better area or better condition for a similar price.

Second, many of the homes purchased today would be on the market again in 5-10 years due to normal changes in people’s lives that require them to sell. If prices stabilize or even slide when this looming rate hike hits, anyone who overpaid will be faced with three options: sell for a loss (which many won’t do), stay, or rent the house to someone else. So now the supply for the future is compromised too.

Many of today’s home sellers have locked in or refinanced at low rates and can make money if they rent. They can move on to another house and let their current one become an investment. And look at that! They don’t even have to refinance to loan-to-value ratios of 75% that are required of investors.

If they recently refinanced while this was their primary home, they can have a much higher loan-to-value ratio than if they were to purchase the same house at the same price but strictly as an investment. Why sell? Seems like a home run to just rent it, which many do, so they can take some monthly cash flow with them and move on. So there’s another house that will not be on the market for sale this spring.

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There are also cases where people need or want to move, but are priced out of buying anything else. I recently had a chat with someone who asked my advice on this issue. Because of a schooling situation with their child, they were considering moving from Maryland to Virginia for several years, then moving back and wanted to know what they could sell their house for. I asked why they would sell it, given the costs of selling, moving, buying, selling again, and moving back. They wisely noted, “Yes, and in 3 years, we probably couldn’t afford our neighborhood again since we really couldn’t afford to buy again right now.”

I stopped them from four needless transactions and advised them to rent their home out and rent a place to live so they could come back to their home when they were ready. Well, there’s another four transactions that won’t be happening in the next decade. And I’m not sorry.

After this weekend of house tours, I’ll be writing 5 contracts for 2 different clients with the hopes that they each walk away with a house. Crossing my fingers. And I’ve told both of these clients as well as all my others: things are looking too unstable for the near future and not to plan on selling in the next 10 years. They need to buy the best house they can get for the best deal possible, not be afraid to walk away from overpriced homes, and not get into a bidding war. If they can commit to that, they stand a chance of making a decent investment.

By Melissa Terzis, Realtor, City Chic Real Estate, Washington, DC

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