Real Estate

Home prices may be on the verge of cooling off

After rising steadily since January, home prices may now be turning lower again.

The latest read on home prices shows they hit another all-time high in July, rising 2.3% from the same month last year, according to Black Knight. That’s a bigger annual gain than the roughly 1% recorded in June, and August’s annual comparison will likely be even larger because prices began falling hard last August.

But prices weakened month to month, according to Black Knight. While still gaining, which they usually do at this time of year, the gains fell below their 25-year average. This after significantly outdoing their historical averages from February through June. It’s a signal that a slowdown in prices may be underway again.

“In addition to monthly gains slowing below long-term averages, Black Knight rate lock and sales transaction data also points to lower average purchase prices and seasonally adjusted price per square foot among recent sales,” said Andy Walden, vice president of enterprise research at Black Knight. “All of these factors combined underscore the need to focus on seasonally adjusted month-over-month movements rather than simply relying on the traditional annual home price growth rate.”

Behind the cooling off: mortgage rates. They rose sharply last summer and fall, causing prices to drop. They then came down for much of the winter and a bit of the spring, causing home prices to turn higher again. Now rates are back over 7% again, hitting 20-year-plus highs in August.

Add to that, new listings rose from July to August, atypical for that period of the year. Some sellers may be trying to cash in on these historically high prices. Active inventory, however, is about 48% below the levels seen from 2017 to 2019.

“While the uptick in new listings is good news for home shoppers, inventory remains persistently low, even with record-high mortgage rates putting a damper on demand,” said Danielle Hale, chief economist for Realtor.com.

A drop in prices would come as some relief to buyers, but unlikely enough.

The jump in home prices since the start of the Covid pandemic, combined with much higher mortgage rates has crushed affordability.

It now takes roughly 38% of the median household income to make the monthly payment on the median-priced home purchase, according to Black Knight. That makes homeownership the least affordable it’s been since 1984.

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