Conventional wisdom says home sales will slow this year as mortgage rates rise.
But two reports out this week indicate rising rates — even if they go above 5 percent — are unlikely to have a big effect on home sales.
“Historically, rising confidence, solid job growth, and higher wages have more than offset reduced demand for housing resulting from higher mortgage rates,” said a report by John Burns Real Estate Consulting, an Irvine, California-based housing advisory firm.
Economists had forecast Southern California home sales would flatten this year and price gains would be smaller in part because of rising mortgage rates. Most forecast rates will rise to 4.5 percent or above this year, possibly going as high as 5 percent.
Rates for the 30-year fixed mortgage started to climb in early January, averaging 4.32 percent as of the week ended Thursday, Feb. 8, according to mortgage giant Freddie Mac. Rates are up a half a percent since September.
A half-point rise added $127, or 7 percent, to the monthly payment on a median-priced Southern California home. If rates were to hit 5 percent, payments would increase $292 a month, or 15 percent.
But both the Burns firm and Redfin.com don’t expect much of an effect.
Burns researchers examined 10 periods in the past 43 years in which mortgage interest rates jumped by 1 percent or more, finding little or no impact on sales if the underlying economy was strong. But when rates rose during a weak economy, “home sales and prices get crushed,” an article by Burns Research Director Rick Palacios said.
“Today’s economic backdrop clearly supports continued homebuying demand,” Palacios wrote. “Confidence among consumers and businesses continues to hit multi-year highs. Job and wage growth remains solid, with an increasing number of workers rejoining the workforce.”
A wide majority of homebuilders surveyed expected sales drops to be less than 10 percent if rates go to 5 percent, the Burns report said.
A separate survey by online real estate brokerage Redfin supported that conclusion. The survey, conducted in late 2017, included responses from 4,000 recent and prospective homebuyers.
Just 6 percent of those responding said they’d cancel their plans to buy a home if 30-year mortgage rates rose above 5 percent. Twenty-seven percent said they’d wait to see if rates come back down again, and 21 percent said they would look for a cheaper home.
But another 21 percent said they’d speed up homebuying plans before rates went up further; a fourth said such an increase would have no impact on their homebuying plans.
“Buyers remain unfazed by the prospect of rising mortgage rates,” the Redfin report said.