Real Estate Economy: It’s Not a Bubble Unless it Pops

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A bubble, by definition, pops and prices plummet. Look at buyer demand. Look at homeowner equity. Prices could stop going up for a bit – but it’s not a bubble.

NEW YORK – Record home prices, bidding wars and other factors show a real estate market that appears eerily similar to the 2006 bubble market, although mortgage loans are much harder to get today than they were 15 years ago. A mortgage credit availability index reached almost 870 in June 2006; it was only 125 this March.

Today, loans are proportionally smaller to house values and borrowers’ income; borrowers’ average credit scores are higher.

Another implosion seems unlikely, with tight housing supply and strong demand likely to persist. There’s no imminent danger of a sharp appreciation in mortgage rates – though they’re likely to rise a small amount – and the U.S. Federal Reserve has purchased nearly $1 trillion in mortgage-backed securities to keep the rates down since resuming its buys in March 2020.

Although rising home prices may not be as destabilizing as they were in the last bubble, they are placing homeowners in a more favorable position than renters. CoreLogic estimated that homeowners’ equity in mortgaged homes gained 16%, or $1.5 trillion, in 2020 alone.

Is the house price rally decelerating? Indicators are inconsistent. The Mortgage Bankers Association’s index of applications for mortgages to buy a home slipped to 269.6 the week of June 4 from 342.8 in the week of April 16. And the National Association of Realtors®’ index of pending home sales declined 4.4% in April – down 19% from its August 2020 record.

Source: Bloomberg (06/10/21) Coy, Peter