OC Housing Market – Still Strong

When housing is surging with seemingly no end in sight, society cannot help but flashback to 2001 through 2006. In 2004 and 2005, the Case-Shiller U.S. Home Price Index showed red-hot home price appreciation between 10% and 14.5%. Everybody knows what happened next, the housing bubble eventually popped and led to double digit home price depreciation in 2008 and 2009. In May of this year, U.S. home price appreciation reached 14.6%, its highest level since tracking began in 1988. Yet, today’s housing market is glaringly different than the run-up to the Great Recession. That housing stock was built on the backs of easy credit, pick-a-payment plan, subprime lending, zero-down loans, easy qualifying, and fraudulent lending. Prior to the bubble deflating, there were obvious signs of a pending housing collapse: way too much supply of available homes to purchase and diminished year over year demand. The simple Econ 101 principle of supply and demand painted the inevitable housing plunge.

Today, it is completely different. There is no credit bubble like before. It is not easy credit that is the catalyst to the highest appreciation on record. Buyers cannot merely fog a mirror to obtain financing. Instead, they must qualify for loans, prove that they can afford the monthly payment. The process is intentionally cumbersome to prevent a repeat of 2007 to 2011. The current housing boom is quite simply due to supply and demand. Everyone is acutely aware of the current plight of the housing market: there just are not enough available homes to purchase. Supply is low. Recently the supply has been rising, up 14% in the past 4 weeks, but still at historical lows. At 2,528 homes, it is 46% less than last year’s level of 4,645, which was muted due to COVID-19. In comparing it to the 5-year average from 2015 to 2019 of 6,820 homes, it is 63% less. There are just not enough homes to satisfy the immense buying demand. That is the real issue, the supply side of the equation. For comparison purposes, in 2008 there were 18,000 available homes in Orange County. In 2006, a year before the start of the Great Recession, there were 16,000.

How about the demand side of the equation? It is elevated due to the historically low mortgage rate environment. After COVID-19 hit, mortgage rates achieved 17 record lows, starting with 3.29% in March 2020. It dropped to 2.65% during the first week of January this year. The record prior to last year was achieved in November 2012 at 3.31%. Last Thursday, July 8th, according to Freddie Mac’s Primary Mortgage Market Survey®, rates dropped to 2.9%. Prior to COVID, rates were hovering around 3.75%. Combine today’s low rates with a strongest demographic patch of First-Time home buyers in decades, and it is easy to see where all the demand is coming from. Even as values rise, homes are still affordable when factoring in rates and incomes.

Recently, demand has been dropping, shedding 10% in the past 4-weeks, but it remains elevated compared to prior years. Demand, the last 30-days of new pending sale activity, is at 2,761. It is 9% less than last year’s 3,050 pending sales, but last year’s numbers were skewed because of COVID. In comparing it to the 5-year average from 2015 to 2019 of 2,699 homes, it is 2% more. And, today’s level is being achieved with a muted supply and a lot fewer homeowners placing their homes on the market. There are 1,910 fewer FOR-SALE signs this year compared to the 5-year average between 2015 to 2019, 8% less. More homes would have translated to higher demand readings.

It is important to also mention that there is not going to be a wave of foreclosures that will hit the market as soon as Forbearance comes to an end for a variety of sound economic reasons. Many doomsayers point to Forbearance and simply state that there will be a flood of foreclosures, and values will plunge like the Great Recession. The facts do not support this claim. There have been 7.2 million homeowners who have taken advantage of Forbearance. Of the 5.2 million homeowners who have exited Forbearance, 90% either are currently paying on time or paid off their loan. Of the 2 million homeowners with an active Forbearance, 90% have at least 10% equity, enough to sell their homes if they remain in a financial pickle.