April 10, 2022
by Stephen Stofka
In the period leading up to the financial crisis a speculative fever engaged many of the actors in the housing market. This included homebuyers, agents, mortgage brokers, investment firms and risk managers convinced that housing prices could only rise. Homebuyers, struck by FOMO fever, jumped into the home lottery, gambling on a quick flip for a profitable gain with little investment. The frenzy of this market is marked by an opposite phenomenon. Small investors with a portfolio of ten or fewer houses are outbidding conventional buyers with all cash offers. Investment capital is at war with consumption capital.
The Atlanta branch of the Federal Reserve (2022) maintains a Home Ownership Affordability Monitor (HOAM) that ranks the affordability of a home at current prices and interest rates in cities and counties through the country. Readers can select the city, county they are interested in and they’ll see the affordability index. Hover over a county on the map and they’ll see the median home price, median household income and the share of income a house payment would be. The mortgage payment is based on the 3.6% interest rate of two months ago. After the recent rise in interest rates, you can add on at least $200 or more to the monthly payment.
A total housing cost of up to 30% of gross income is considered affordable according to the HOAM guidelines. A rule of thumb to calculate an affordable housing budget is to divide annual gross income by 40. For instance, $80,000 / 40 = $2000 per month. An index above 100 is affordable. The metro Denver area is in the 70s. With an index below 50, a typical household in the LA area would spend more than 50% of their gross income on housing. Some of the counties in the Dallas-Ft. Worth, Texas area and most of the counties in the Atlanta, Georgia area are affordable and that helps explain a growing population in some southern states.
Few will be surprised to learn that housing prices in many cities are unaffordable. Since the housing crisis, not enough housing has been built and low interest rates have increased the pool of qualified buyers. The higher demand puts upward pressure on prices. Older homeowners on a reduced income may resist selling because they cannot find a suitable replacement – a paradox of rising home prices.
In the chart below I’ve added on the Fed’s 2% inflation target to real GDP growth as a benchmark for the 30-year mortgage rate. Rates have been low the past decade but GDP growth has been low as well.
The red line is real economic growth after inflation + 2%. In the last quarter of 2021, economic growth was just 5% above the same quarter of 2019. That two year growth rate is moderate but not strong. The one year growth rate of 5.5% is due to what economists call base effects. Because of the pandemic the 2020 base number was weak, making moderate growth look stronger than it is.
The Fed is expecting growth to average 2.75% this year and decline to 2.3% in 2023 (FRED Series GDPC1CTM). Add in the Fed’s 2% inflation target as I done and the 30 year rate should find a balance in the range of 4.5-5.0%. However, that rate will probably overshoot before finding an equilibrium. The war in Ukraine will make it more difficult for that balance to happen. Homebuyers should not expect 30-year rates to fall below 4% in the near term.
Federal Reserve. (2022). Home Ownership Affordability Monitor. Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. Retrieved April 7, 2022, from https://www.atlantafed.org/center-for-housing-and-policy/data-and-tools/home-ownership-affordability-monitor