Anyone eyeing mortgage rates, which reached above 8% in October, can be excused for longing after the pandemic lows of sub-3% mortgages. But it’s unlikely those rock-bottom rates will return in the near future, according to Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. Instead, the veteran market watcher expects rates to hover at roughly double that level in the near future.
“Everybody should get used to 5.50% to 6% because that’s where mortgage rates are going to settle in, [in the] long run,” Zandi told CNBC on Monday. Mortgage rates tend to trail the 10-year Treasury yield, which he suspects will hover around 4% to 4.50%; that generally puts mortgage rates at that 5.5% to 6% he’s expecting.
Asked to predict the magic mortgage rate that will have inventory flooding back into the housing market, Zandi said that obviously a 5% rate is better than 6%, but the long-term number will likely be somewhere in between.
In recent weeks, mortgage rates have fallen from their October highs, with the average 30-year fixed rate currently at 7.30%. But in today’s somewhat frozen housing market, that’s barely a start. With a 6% mortgage rate, things start to thaw as would-be buyers and sellers enter the market, but Zandi doesn’t think home sales will get back anywhere near levels seen during the pandemic, before the Federal Reserve began its interest rate hike cycle to lower inflation. Getting closer to that 5% mortgage rate would trigger more activity, he added.
“The other thing that’s got to happen here, obviously, is we do need to see some weakness in house prices,” Zandi added. “If house prices don’t come [down] to any degree, we’re going to have to see even lower mortgage rates to get sales up.”
Some forecasts, like that of Goldman Sachs, suggest home prices will continue to increase next year. So far, prices aren’t letting up; the national S&P Case Shiller house price index increased 3.9% on an annual basis in September, according to figures released on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, existing home sales are at their slowest pace since 2010, when the housing market was reeling in the aftermath of the Great Financial Crisis. That’s largely because of the so-called lock-in effect, which keeps homeowners with low mortgage rates from selling their homes—constraining both buyers and sellers. New home sales, on the other hand, have outperformed existing home sales because homebuilders can offer incentives, like mortgage rate buydowns. Still, higher mortgage rates are curbing demand even there, with new home sales falling more than expected in October.
“Most of the weakness in sales is on the existing side,” Zandi explained. “Homeowners are much more reluctant to cut prices…builders are doing what it takes to move those homes.”
There is some relief pushing its way through the housing market, and that’s on the rental side.
“Rents have gone flat to down, particularly at the high end of the market,” he said. “These big multifamily towers are going up in the big urban centers in the Northeast, Chicago, on the West Coast, and that’s putting downward pressure on rent—and, I think, is having some impact on new house prices, and at the high end of single-family housing markets.”
Realtor.com’s October rental report released on Tuesday showed median rent for studios, one- and two-bedrooms across the U.S.’ top 50 metro areas continues to trail its 2022 levels, experiencing a year-over-year decline for the sixth month in a row. As Zandi mentioned, a lot of that has to do with supply. There was a substantial increase in new multifamily construction in 2022 and that resulted in an uptick in new multifamily completions in 2023, “which significantly augmented the rental supply and exerted downward pressure on rental prices,” this year, the report found.
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