In this Real Estate News Brief for the week ending April 17th, 2021... home builders are stepping on the gas, rents are headed “up” once again, and the best days to list your home.
We begin with economic news from this past week. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell offered more clarity on when the central bank plans to start the tapering process. The Fed has been buying $120 billion worth of Treasurys and mortgage-backed securities each month since last summer as an economic shot in the arm. It also cut interest rates to zero. The Fed expects to begin tapering when the economy reaches full employment and a stable rate of inflation at 2% or slightly more. And, Powell says, that would happen well before any interest rate increases. After the 2013/2014 tapering process began, it took another two years for a rate hike. Powell says the Fed will follow a similar strategy. He didn’t give a date as to when this would happen. Some economists are predicting that tapering will begin next year. Others say it could happen sooner.
Signs of inflation continue. Consumer prices have been higher for four months in a row, hitting their highest level in two-and-a-half years last month. The government says the index was up .6%, and the yearly rate of inflation is now 2.6%. Some economists say it could top 3% in the coming months which would put more pressure on the Fed to consider an interest rate increase. Because inflation turned negative during the early months of the pandemic, the yearly rate of inflation could also shoot higher when those low months drop out of the 12-month average. The Fed is predicting inflation will average 2.4% in 2020 and drop back down to 2% next year.
Initial jobless claims were down almost 200,000 last week to a pandemic low of 576,000. That’s the first time that weekly state claims fell below 600,000 since the pandemic began. Another 131,000 people filed for help from a temporary federal program bringing the combined total to around 700,000. Continuing claims also dropped from 18.2 million to 16.9 million by the end of March.
Home builders are busy after a winter slowdown. The Census Bureau says that home starts jumped 19% in March compared to the previous month. Compared with March of last year, during the pandemic, they are up 37%. Permits are also up, but they took a smaller leap higher at 2.7% but the figures were higher for single-family homes than they were for bigger multi-family developments. In the middle of those two categories was a much bigger 25.5% surge in permits for two- to four-plex homes. MarketWatch says that might indicate a push for higher density housing to meet the demand.
And there is a new report out by Freddie Mac on the size of the housing shortfall. It says the U.S. housing market needs 3.8 million more single-family homes to keep up with demand. The shortage is more severe for entry level homes. Freddie Mac’s chief economist Sam Khater says: “This is what you get when you underbuild for 10 years.” Home builders have faced their own challenges, however. The housing crisis put many out of business, which has had a lasting impact. And now the pandemic has made it hard to get workers and created a lumber shortage among other issues.
Despite the shortage of homes for sale, consumer sentiment is running high. The University of Michigan says its index rose from 84.9 in March to 86.5 in April. That’s the highest it’s been since March of last year.
Mortgage rates took another dip this last week. Freddie Mac says the average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage was down 9 basis points to 3.04%. The 15-year was also down 7 basis points to 2.35%.
In other news making headlines...
Many Remote Workers Won’t Go Back to the Office
A new survey shows that a third of the people working remotely would rather quit their job than return to the office. Staffing firm Robert Half asked 1,000 people about what they would do, and one out of three said they’d rather look for a new job than return to the office full-time. But many felt that a fully remote job would damage their work relationships and that working from home was less productive. About half of the participants said they’d be happy with a hybrid arrangement.
Study authors suggest that companies adopt new policies when they try to lure employees back. Among the things that employees would like are flexible hours, relaxed dress codes, and more support for childcare. Having an environment that’s safe from COVID is also important.
Rents are Rising Once Again
Rents are on an upswing once again, after an 8-month downtrend. Realtor.com’s Monthly Rental report shows that rent growth was 1.1% year-over-year in March, in the nation’s largest metro areas. Realtor.com’s chief economist Danielle Hale says it’s still below the 3.2% rent growth we saw before the pandemic, but she expects the pace will pick up from here as the economy recovers.
She also says: “Rents are not rising in all markets. The tech markets and several big metros like Chicago and Los Angeles continue to see rent declines.” But those declines are also running at a slower pace. She also says that Americans may be more interested in renting as home prices and mortgage rates rise.
Best Days to List
New research shows that sellers who list their homes on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday will sell faster and for more money. Redfin tracked home sales data from July 2020 to February of this year, and found out that on average, homes that were listed mid-week sold for $1,700 more. But depending on the home, some sellers are getting thousands of dollars more.
Redfin’s chief economist, Daryl Fairweather, says: “The market is so competitive, most homes will receive plenty of attention regardless of when they are listed.” But he says listing in the middle of the week provides more time for buyers to check out the home, and getting as many serious buyers interested will help drive up the sales price.
You can read more about all these stories by following links on the podcast player page for this episode at www.NewsForInvestors.com