Double-digit price increases for homes are not exactly what most people in real estate predicted to occur in a recession. But could low mortgage rates—the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage hit a record-low average of 2.81% last week—be partially to blame?
“The combination of what could be the lowest mortgage rates of our lifetimes, a paucity of inventory, and a desperate rush of buyers has resulted in median home list prices hitting new records,” realtor.com® reports.
Home prices were 12.2% higher for the week ending Oct. 10 than they were a year ago, realtor.com® data shows.
“It’s unprecedented for us to get a massive run-up in home prices during a recession,” says Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s chief economist. “It’s clear that [mortgage] rates matter even more than unemployment rates.”
Low mortgage rates are helping buyers afford higher home prices, and they’re creating a buying frenzy in the housing market to lock in such low rates. Home buyers purchasing a median-priced home at about $350,000 still pay about $80 less than if they purchased a median-priced home of $315,000 last year at a higher interest rate average of 3.69%, a realtor.com® analysis shows.
Affordability goes up with low mortgage rates. However, home buyers do need a higher down payment as prices rise.
High home prices with high mortgage rates, on the other hand, is not a good combo, housing analysts point out. Ali Wolf, chief economist of Zonda, told realtor.com® that if mortgage rates go up by even a half-point, hundreds of thousands of buyers may no longer be able to purchase a home. First-time buyers, who tend to have smaller budgets, likely would experience the biggest repercussion.
But many economists are predicting mortgage rates to stay low in 2021. In the meantime, home prices likely will remain elevated because buyer demand remains high and inventories remain stretched thin.