In this Real Estate News Brief for the week ending September 18th, 2021… inflation eases up overall, but rents and building materials soar, while mortgage rates hold steady.
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We begin with economic news from the past week. Concerns about inflation have eased up a bit. Prices rose at their slowest pace in August since about seven months ago. The consumer price index was up .3% which brought the annual rate down a tenth of a percent to 5.3%. The core rate, which strips out prices for food and gas, was only up .1% to an annual rate of 4%. That’s down from 4.3% in June. MarketWatch economists say that could be a sign that the recent price surge is peaking. (1)
There’s been a lot of debate about the risk of higher inflation and whether it will remain above the 2% mark. The Federal Reserve isn’t worried. It expects prices to come back down toward that 2% level sometime next year.
Jobless claims rose last week because of Hurricane Ida, but they are still near a pandemic low. The U.S. Department of Labor says initial jobless claims for state benefits were up about 20,000 to 320,000. The pandemic low point is 318,000. Continuing claims also fell to a seasonally adjusted 2.67 million. That “is” a pandemic low. (2)
Consumers were spending money in August which is a sign of strength for the U.S. economy. The Census Bureau reports that retail sales were up .7%, although MarketWatch says that higher prices could account for at least part of that increase. (3) The numbers are not as strong as they were in the spring, but consumers are buying different things right now. In the spring, they were stocking up on goods. Now they are spending more on things like restaurants and travel. Retail sales numbers are 15% higher than August of last year.
Consumers are expressing a slightly higher level of confidence in the U.S. economy than they did over the summer. The University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment survey shows a reading of 71 for September. (4) In August, it was 70.3. MarketWatch says that people are still worried about their financial situations, including higher prices. They are also feeling pessimistic about the purchase of homes, vehicles, and large appliances, which are all in short supply.
Mortgage rates haven’t moved much for two months. According to Freddie Mac, the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage went down just 2 basis points to 2.86% this last week. The 15-year dropped a little more. It was down 7 basis points to 2.12%. (5) Freddie Mac says the holding pattern is the result of a slowdown in the economic recovery. But it says other factors are in play, such as increased migration, the remote work trend, the use of automation, and a focus on a more energy efficient economy, which, it says, will probably lead to increased economic growth.
In other news making headlines…
Rents Soaring in Cities Across the Country
It isn’t just home prices that are shooting skyward. Rents are increasing even faster than home prices. A new Redfin report says that August rents hit a national year-over-year growth rate of 11.5%.
That’s the first double-digit rate of rent growth ever and represents a median rent of $1,633, or about $169 more per month for renters. (6) If you look at apartments of different sizes, the median is $1,338 for a studio, $1,524 for a 1-bedroom, and $1,828 for a 2-bedroom.
Cities seeing the most rent growth are Tampa, Florida; Riverside, California; Miami, Florida, and Phoenix, Arizona. Rents in all four of those metros were more than 25% higher on a year-over-year basis.
Lumber Costs Lower, But Other Costs Rise
Builders are getting a break on lumber prices, but the cost for other materials is climbing. According to government data, home building materials have risen 19% in the past year. At one point last spring, lumber prices had topped $1,500 for a thousand board feet, but they have come back down and are now closer to $400. But there’s a long list of materials that have gotten a lot more expensive. (7)
The National Association of Home Builders says that steel mill products have gone up the most, followed by building paper and building board mill products, asphalt, plastic water pipe, fertilizer materials, laminated veneer lumber, and other materials used frequently by the building industry. Prices for steel mill products are up 81% year-over-year.
Those price increases are pushing new home prices higher. In July, the median sales price of a home was $390,500. That’s an 18.4% increase from July of last year.
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Thanks for listening. I'm Kathy Fettke.