Inventory Shortages Keeping Home Sales Low

    Home sales will pick up to a solid 5.3 million this year and are expected to hit 5.5 million next year, but until inventory constraints improve, the country’s large pent-up demand for home sales can’t be met, NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun said at the 2015 REALTORS® Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo in Washington, D.C.

    Overall, the economy is on a steady growth track, with solid job formation, continuing low interest rates, and the large millennial generation entering its peak household-formation years. But with buyers having to compete for a limited selection of properties in many markets across the country, home prices are rising fast, making it hard for many first-time buyers to get into the market.

    Yun’s concerned that, as a result of these conditions, many households risk missing out on the wealth-building effect of home ownership at a time of low interest rates and strong price appreciation. “Young people are in a position to leave their parents’ home because job growth is picking up, but the lack of inventory and rising prices is making that hard,” he said.

    For lawmakers, there are important policy implications, because home ownership is the path most people take to building wealth. As more households find their options limited to renting, inequality—already rising across the country—will worsen. “Without home ownership, many people will not be able to enter the middle class,” he said.

    Despite the need for more inventory, builders are concentrating on the multifamily rental market right now, because that’s where the demand is, said Robert Dietz, vice president for tax and market analysis for the National Association of Home Builders. Dietz, speaking at the same forum on residential issues and trends, said the renter population has been the big growth story in real estate since the economic recovery began several years ago.

    There’s plenty of interest among builders to fill the need for more single-family homes, too, but small builders, who historically have been responsible for building two-thirds of new homes each year, can’t get the acquisition and development financing they need to get back into the market. Lenders want them to have buyers already lined up before they give them financing, Dietz said, making it hard for builders to get inventory in the market for buyers to look at. Also keeping housing starts down are a lack of skilled labor and a shortage of developed lots, he said. Prices of building materials are on the rise, too.

    Yun is forecasting 1.1 million housing starts this year, rising to 1.4 million next year. Prices are on track to rise 6 percent this year and then ease to a sustainable 4 percent next year, as more homes come on the market. He predicts long-term mortgage rates will stay at a low 4 percent this year, rising to 5.2 percent next year. Yun said interest rates will continue to rise, but he doesn’t expect big jumps in the years ahead because inflation remains in check and energy prices aren’t expected to go up to any significant degree in the years ahead.

    —Robert Freedman, REALTOR® Magazine

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