If there is one thing we can learn from the real estate market of the past 5 years it is that mortgage rates alone will not cause a recovery. When rates went below 6%, then 5%, and now below 4%, the results have remained largely forgettable. But what few consider is the long term damage that such low rates may cause down the road.
Each year that we accumulate another round of 30 year fixed mortgages at ridiculously low rates, we sow the seeds of another bubble in 20 years. One of the calling cards of the crazy spike we saw from 2001-2005 was low inventory. In lieu of other options, buyers seeking to get their offer accepted bid prices up crazily. In another generation, we’ll have a whole era of homes purchased during the current time period where many owners will be reticent to sell simply because their rates are low and it will make economic sense to remain in their homes longer. Fewer homes for sale translates to lower inventory and upward pressure on prices.
In the 80’s real estate spiked despite double digit rates. Rates don’t affect buyers as much as lenders (or governments) think they do, but they matter to sellers, especially those who are empty nesters or on fixed incomes. The only way to entice a reluctant seller is with more money; that puts even more pressure on prices upward.
The smart thing to do might be to gradually raise rates to a sane level, where we don’t cause a generation of holders on because of their low rates. It won’t matter as much to buyers, who have historically bought no matter the prevailing rate, and it will minimize future problems.
As crazy as it may seem in this day and age where bust seems the norm, we are unwittingly planting some seeds of boom in the future, and not the healthy kind. So long as those in charge of managing the money markets of the nation view matters in election cycles and not the long term, we remain in danger of a boom/bust cycle and not a more stable or sustainable market. The outlook should focus on long term stability, not timing elections with hot periods.
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