The Boston area housing market deserves an analysis of what’s happened so far this year – and what we can expect in 2017. With the end of the year quickly approaching, let’s take a look at some of the important facts impacting the real estate market this year.
Refinancing is on the decline.
It took the better part of the entire year, but it appears most people that can refinance already have done so. With rates at or near historic lows, borrowers flocked to their mortgage lenders to pay off loans with interest rates as high as 5%-7% in favor of those averaging in the 3.00%-3.5% range. Refinancing, according to mortgage experts, were the the largest growth stimulators for most banks and lending institutions. Since rates just can’t get much lower, it’s doubtful that refinancing will continue to be as popular as it was in 2016.
Buyers are attracted to new homes.
Despite the homeowner participation rate at a record low during much of 2016, many homebuyers chose to purchase newly built single family homes instead of existing ones. With home inventory levels down in the Boston area housing market, homeowners were slower to perform the necessary upgrades to their homes and put them up for sale. This created what economists describe as a “self-fulfilling prophecy” of continued lower inventory and a supply unable to keep pace with demand. The effect was especially detrimental to the starter home market, where first-time homebuyers usually begin their search.
Homebuyer confidence continues to remain robust.
As we’ve seen in recent years, millennials are very careful with their money. As such, many of them have put off home buying until they are able to save for a down payment, or until they are confident with their career choices and the city in which they live and work. However, these fiscally conservative young adults increasingly do want to own their own homes. The proverbial “catch” is they want to do so on their own terms. Remember, this segment of the population is accustomed to renting and they have grown used to the short-term flexibility and expectations that go hand-in-hand with renting an apartment or home. Surveys show more than 85% of millennials plan to stay in the homes they purchase for less than seven years. So, mortgage terms and the ability to sell their homes in a few short years are important factors to them.
Low interest rates prevailed.
Probably the biggest advantage the Boston area housing market experienced in 2016 was the consistently low interest rates. Steadily improving consumer confidence combined with reportedly lower jobless rates have given the Federal Reserve little reason to raise interest rates, at least for the time being. Experts say the downside of lower interest rates is that new home sales – which have come to expect and almost take for granted low mortgage rates – will suffer slightly. As is normally the case with a rate increase, even a slight one, potential home purchasers typically are slower to make a move. On a more positive note, however, rising rates usually mean home sales prices will either level off or decrease somewhat.
Remember, all real estate is local… and that’s a good thing.
During 2016, it was reinforced over and over again that it’s difficult – and even dangerous – to lump the real estate market into one large basket. Each individual market is different because each region of the United States is different in terms of the economic influencers in a certain community or state. While some markets may be experiencing very good sales and higher sales prices, others may be lagging behind – negatively influenced by the closing of a large manufacturing facility or the damages caused by a flood, a hurricane or other natural disaster. In addition, the housing market in a state or region that employs a large number of millennials, for example, can be impacted negatively because the average length of time they stay on a job is 2.8 years.
With what we’ve experienced and learned in the Boston area housing market in 2016, what can we expect in 2017?
While many factors could come into play between now and the first of the year, it appears to many economists that home prices have probably peaked and will likely go down slightly – for these main reasons:
What goes up must come down. That’s usually a “given” in the real estate market. In the long run, home values usually rise. However, if we look at the manner in which prices have risen during the past year or so, a number of the hotter markets will likely experience a correction, causing prices to stabilize or dip.
Interest rates will go up. After all, interest rates can’t stay this low forever, right? So, expect an increase – even a slight one – sometime in 2017. And when rates rise, home prices will decrease.
Home inventory will increase. Analysts expect new construction to shift from multi-family units to single-family homes, making the Boston area housing market less competitive in the process.
Affordability will be a hot topic. It always is, but affordability will become even more important if inventory increases and interest rates go up.
How will the election affect the Boston area housing market? The answer is yet to be determined and few discernible changes – if any – will likely not occur until late in the first quarter of 2017, if then. While both candidates referenced the housing collapse of less than a decade ago in their campaigns, neither ever provided a clear policy outlook for how to avoid a similar occurrence in the future. Look for continued government regulation and housing safeguards to protect the industry. However, as always, there will have to be a balance in order to keep home ownership affordable and popular without repeating the mortgage sins of 2008.
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