ViewPoint Live: A New Phase for the Housing Industry? - March 30, 2017

Home Values Recover, but Challenges Seen

The housing market recovery continues to gain steam as home prices return to levels seen during the sector's pre-recession peak, but there are challenges, said Atlanta Fed senior financial specialist Domonic Purviance during a recent ViewPoint Live webcast. He cautioned that industry experts have expressed concern that rising interest rates could depress housing demand and further erode affordability.

The good news is that demand for homes is rising as job growth picks up in many regions of the nation. But inventory is tightening as fewer houses are being built, and rising prices are putting homes out of reach for some buyers.

"One of the things that we at the Atlanta Fed have been focused on is the real impact of declining levels of affordability, and how the market resolves this issue and what impact it could potentially have long term," said Purviance, who works in the Supervision and Regulation Division.

Competitive home-buying in prime neighborhoods

The price gap between new and existing homes has widened since the recovery as builders focus their development on so-called "A" neighborhoods, which are close to job centers and within good school districts, Purviance noted. At the same time, rising land and labor costs are making it difficult to build cheaper homes—especially those at entry-level price points—profitably. The upshot of these trends is that the newer homes being built today are more expensive, he said.

Purviance shared national data showing that in March 2005, the biggest share of homes being built were priced under $200,000. Now, homes selling for $300,000 to $400,000 account for the largest single price range of housing starts.

These developments complicate matters for home buyers, Purviance said. "If you were in a market to buy a house today, it's pretty difficult to find a house, and when you do, there are multiple offers and multiple bids," he said. He noted that rising interest rates make homes less affordable.

"Moving forward, we have to see what happens and how the market responds to a rising interest rate environment," Purviance added.

Michael Johnson, executive vice president of Supervision and Regulation, said his staff would be watching to see if rising interest rates would affect the deposit mix at banks. He added that cybersecurity risks are a top concern in 2017.