One would think that predicting the seasonal course in our local housing market wouldn’t be that hard, right? What makes people decide whether now is the time to buy or wait on the sidelines? We’re not sure exactly what one thing it is, or if it even is one thing at all. More likely it’s a mix of factors that plays into their emotions, but one thing is in common—when buyers pull back, they almost all do it in sync—almost like the young, amateur traders transforming markets.
The Pandemic Changed the Norms
Prior to the Pandemic we took great pride in prognosticating seasonal real estate cycles by examining past performance of the market at various times of the year and during various cyclical events. Take for example election years. Whether it’s a presidential election year that stands to be decisive, such as Trump v. Biden, or even a less momentous mid-term election, we were pretty much guaranteed to realize a buyer pull-back from late September through mid-November. That was just one of the expectations that we had to throw out the window in 2020.
Of course, the stock market swinging wildly sets people off, and any hint of tech companies laying people off sends the pool of buyers into hibernation.
We had a lot of variables stacking up signaling buyers may take a siesta from house hunting during the Pandemic while jobs, the economy, really the entire future was in unchartered waters, but instead buyers came out in droves snapping up everything and anything so long as it had a yard—go figure. While in hindsight we can see the motivations for many of these first-time buyers jumping into the market—working from home while home-schooling two children in a 900 square foot apartment with not even a yard for sustenance is enough to get any procrastinator off the fence, though we certainly wouldn’t have bet on it.
We started this year with unemployment moderating, but inflation gathering steam, the “R” word entering economists’ vocabulary again, and threats of war in Ukraine which stood to further impact prices. Yet in Q1 we saw one of the biggest bull runs in the housing market we’ve seen in years.
While the median home price in San Mateo County went up 7% between Q1 of 2021 and Q1 of 2022, in Belmont the increase in those two periods was 28%.
So, what’s in store for Q2? Where is the market headed now as the landscape changes?
Even the mention of possible interest rate hikes tends to knock a lot of buyers off of the fence as they finally realize that the luxury they had to purchase a home “whenever”, knowing the rates would always be low, may be coming to a close. It’s odd too, as rates were nearly as high in 2019 and nobody seemed to care.
But this is different. Rate hikes are scheduled for this year and even though the Federal Reserve rate doesn’t automatically correlate to a hike in Mortgage rates, the markets take advantage of it to raise mortgage rates, and profits.
We didn’t so much as predict what would happen when the government artificially kept mortgage rates low after the Great Recession housing debacle in 2007, it was more akin to watching a plane crash from the sky. You don’t have to see it hit the ground to know what will happen. So, what IS happening that we knew would be inescapable? Homeowners who refinanced or buyers who purchased a home when rates were at historic lows—in the 2-3% range, aren’t going to be selling their home and moving anytime soon. Sure, in California they can now carry their low property tax base, but they can’t carry their low interest rate—so many are going to stay put and there will be even less inventory than there has been, and which will once again put upward pressure on housing prices.
However, the current rise in interest rates will have a mitigating effect on any upward pressure on home prices.
The current rates for mortgages that went from 2.5% to 5.2% now makes the monthly mortgage payment on a median price home in Belmont go up more than $4,000 a month, which is a 33% increase. Effectively, that means a buyer’s purchasing power just dropped by
What we cannot predict is the outcome of how the collision of these two contrasting forces will end.
The short of it is we don’t know what buyers will do going forward. Will they wait for a while to see if rates come back down, or jump in before they go higher? Or, will they jump in anyway while others are sidelined and refinance later? Will it put a cap on over bidding? Will higher interest rates dissuade homeowners from selling even if it’s to downsize, to keep a lower payment/interest rate? Will that be enough to throttle back inventory further to mitigate the impact of fewer buyers in the market?
On a micro scale, we have seen a recent slowdown in heightened level of enthusiastic home buying activity in the last few weeks, but then again we see that every year near tax time, Easter and Spring breaks—stay tuned.
Drew & Christine Morgan are REALTORS/NOTARY PUBLIC in Belmont, CA. with more than 25 years of experience in helping sellers and buyers in their community. As Diamond recipients, Drew and Christine are ranked in the top 50 RE/MAX agents nationwide and the top 3 in Northern California. They may be reached at (650) 508.1441 or emailed at email@example.com.
The information contained in this article is educational and intended for informational purposes only. It does not constitute real estate, tax, insurance or legal advice, nor does it substitute for advice specific to your situation. Always consult an appropriate professional familiar with your scenario.