Serious Squeeze on Renters

Just as the for-sale market is starting to moderate, the rental market is heating up, which will put added pressure on people trying to save for their first home. Rental listings are attracting multiple offers, and apartment vacancy rates are approaching record lows. Consequently, rents are set to soar.

The reason is twofold. First, the jobs market is improving. Despite a disappointing August employment report, 85% of the 21 million jobs slashed during the first month of the pandemic lockdown have been recovered. Job openings have reached an all-time high of 10 million, and those who might have been sleeping in the basement of their parent's house are emerging in search of housing.

The second reason for strong rental demand is that many potential first-time buyers are priced out. The median existing-home sales price was up 25% year-over-year in June, though this is partly because high-end sales are up. The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Index, a constant quality home price index, was up by 18% over the same period. The gain has been a boon for owners but is causing serious anxiety for nonowners. Even near-record-low interest rates can’t compensate. It’s no surprise, then, that the number of mortgage applications to buy a home has been falling, along with the share of sales to first-time home buyers.

Mortgage rates may further squeeze renters next year. The Federal Reserve will soon slow the pace of buying mortgage-backed securities and will certainly raise its benchmark interest rate next year, which may drive rates up to near 4% by the end of 2022. One bit of good news: Fannie Mae will soon consider rental payment history in qualifying borrowers. That will enlarge the pool of eligible buyers. But to ensure that housing costs remain manageable, America needs more homes, both for ownership and for rent. New construction alone won’t fill the need. Rehabbing dilapidated homes and repurposing commercial buildings into residential units—is essential. There is a massive housing shortage. All hands must be on deck to get the supply up.


Inventory Starts to Tick Up

In July, NAR reported a 2.6-month supply of homes for sale, up from 2.5 months in June. Months’ supply represents the number of months it would take for the current inventory to sell at the current sales pace.

Inventory Starts to Tick Up

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