Inflation and the housing market: What buyers and sellers should consider now

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The economy is weird right now. The pandemic has upended daily life for almost everyone, the Federal Reserve is trying to stave off even more dire conditions by lending money for next to nothing, and the unemployment situation remains precarious.

Even so, real estate has remained an unusual bright spot, because homeowners and would-be buyers were generally less affected, monetarily speaking, by the pandemic than renters.

Although the housing market has remained strong, it’s not immune from outside economic forces, including inflation. Inflation essentially is an increase in the prices consumers pay for goods and services.

A small amount of ongoing inflation is considered normal, but the rate of inflation has been rising recently, affecting everything from how much you pay at the pump to the listing prices of homes.

“By keeping interest rates this low for this long, what they’ve done is they’ve created an everything bubble. It’s not just the housing market,” Desmond Lachman, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, previously told Bankrate.

Compounding the inflationary pressure on housing, the limited number of homes available for sale is pushing prices up rapidly. That low inventory is due partly to pandemic-related construction delays and partly because many homeowners who would otherwise have moved chose to postpone putting their properties on the market during lockdowns.

Taken together, these conditions are favorable for sellers, who are often receiving many offers above asking price, but the market can be extremely frustrating for buyers, who can struggle to make the winning bid.

What to consider if you want to sell your home 

If you’re looking to sell your home right now, you shouldn’t have too much trouble. The real issue could be what happens on the other side of the transaction. When you go to purchase your next place to live, you’ll be joining the scrum of eager buyers competing for a limited number of available properties. 

Pros

  • The pandemic has shifted priorities for a lot of homebuyers, and many newly-minted remote workers sought out more space.
  • Although more people wanted to move, the number of listings did not keep up, which forced prices up — a great thing for sellers.
  • Buyers have had to offer more and more money to compete, and many even waived conditions like inspection and appraisal contingencies in their contracts.
  • Many housing experts think we’re near the top of the market in terms of prices, so it’s a great time to sell overall.

Cons

  • Selling is easy, but finding another home is hard, especially for people looking to downsize, because they may find themselves in an even more competitive market segment.
  • Home prices are up by more than 17 percent since last year, according to the National Association of Realtors, which means the proceeds from your sale won’t go as far when you move to make your next purchase.
  • Low inventory, high prices and high rents may make it hard to find your next home.

What to consider if you want to buy a home

Even in this crazy market, you can still snag a great home if you play your cards right and make sure the numbers work for you. It’s especially important to get preapproved for a mortgage before setting out to look for homes, and make as big a down payment as possible, to show sellers you’re serious and your financials are sound.

Pros

  • Mortgage rates have never been lower. You may have to pay more for your house than you’d like to, but your borrowing costs will be lower, so you may be able to afford that bigger loan without stretching too much
  • Although home prices are high, most experts say this current housing cycle should not be a repeat of 2008, when the bursting bubble triggered the Great Recession. If you buy now, you may see some short-term losses if you try to sell the property again too soon, but there shouldn’t be a huge wave of foreclosures like there was a little over a decade ago.

Cons

  • The intense seller’s market means buyers need to be prepared for bidding wars and to lose out on multiple properties before finally sealing a deal.
  • You may need to reevaluate your budget or must-have list: Most homes sell over-asking these days, so your dollars may not go as far as you hoped.
  • You could see your property value decline after you close once the market cools off, but experts say a trend toward foreclosure is not on the horizon, and if you’re buying your forever home, the value should eventually recover.

Should you wait for inflation to decrease and inventory to increase?

There’s no perfect time to buy a house, so it really comes down to what you’re comfortable with. If the numbers work for you now, and you can secure a mortgage that has monthly payments you can afford going forward, then it’s a fine time to buy if you can make the best offer.

Otherwise, it could be worth it to wait until market conditions favor buyers a little more, or see if you can adjust the geographical area or physical parameters of your housing search.

No matter what you decide to do, it’s important to get your finances in order so you’re in as strong a position as possible when you do decide to enter the homebuying fray. If you wait, you can use the time to keep contributing to your savings. Your down payment fund may go farther in a cooler housing market, after all.

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Written by
Zach Wichter
Mortgage reporter
Zach Wichter is a mortgage reporter at Bankrate. He previously worked on the Business desk at The New York Times where he won a Loeb Award for breaking news, and covered aviation for The Points Guy.
Edited by
Mortgage editor