Assessing the Valuation of the US Housing Market
The question of whether the US housing market is overvalued has become increasingly pertinent, with divergent opinions prevailing among experts. While some real estate analysts argue that home prices have surpassed reasonable levels and anticipate a forthcoming correction, others contend that the current high prices are justified by the persistent demand in the market, despite mortgage rates inching closer to 8%.
Danielle Hale, Chief Economist at Realtor.com®, highlights the extent to which homebuyers are dedicating a substantial portion of their income to housing payments, suggesting that affordability is a pressing concern. Yet, the prevailing high prices continue to attract buyers into the market, contributing to a scenario where homes in 98 out of the 100 largest housing markets are selling above their long-term price averages, indicating overvaluation, as per an August analysis conducted by researchers from Florida Atlantic University and Florida International University. Only two markets were observed to have homes selling at a discount, and the majority of the overvalued markets were situated in the South, with seven in Florida.
The housing shortage emerges as a consensus explanation for elevated prices, as the limited supply has incited fierce competition among prospective buyers, leading to bidding wars and escalating offers. This phenomenon mirrors a fundamental economic principle—scarce and highly desirable commodities tend to command higher values.
Devyn Bachman, Senior Vice President of Research at John Burns Research and Consulting, acknowledges the affordability crisis but contends that the robust demand tempers the assertion of overvaluation. However, she concedes that it is challenging to perfectly time the real estate market, and many potential buyers harbor concerns about purchasing at the peak.
Ali Wolf, Chief Economist of Zonda, echoes this sentiment, emphasizing the difficulty in determining market peaks with precision. The decision to buy at the present juncture is influenced by multiple factors, including personal preferences, location choices, and long-term plans. She advises that for those who intend to reside in their homes for at least five years and are buying for reasons like locking in an interest rate, neighborhood, or school district, the concern about market timing should be less prominent.
Beyond home prices, mortgage rates and incomes play pivotal roles in evaluating the market’s valuation. Lower interest rates would render current prices more palatable, illustrating the inherent link between rates and affordability. The recent doubling of mortgage rates has significantly impacted the market dynamics. If mortgage rates continue to rise, home prices may face downward pressure, as there is a limit to how much buyers can allocate to housing expenses each month.
While acknowledging the possibility of price fluctuations, most experts do not foresee a housing crash akin to the Great Recession. Factors such as a shortage of homes for sale, tighter lending standards, and a more qualified pool of borrowers are expected to act as stabilizing forces. The gradual adjustment of prices, income growth, and potential mortgage rate changes are seen as mechanisms to steer the market towards a more balanced state.
Hale points out that housing markets typically do not experience rapid declines but rather undergo extended periods of adjustment. Even if prices were to correct, the majority of homeowners maintain sufficient equity in their homes to avoid being underwater on their mortgages. The exceptions may include recent homeowners with limited time to accumulate equity or those who made low down payments.
In conclusion, despite the ongoing debate about the market’s valuation, the fundamental need for shelter persists, prompting people to continue purchasing homes. While housing is indeed expensive, the decision to buy ultimately hinges on individual circumstances and long-term objectives.