Is the housing market about to crash? Here’s what experts say
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After a record-breaking run that saw mortgage rates plunge to all-time lows and home prices soar to new highs, the U.S. housing market is finally slowing. Home sales had declined for 12 consecutive months through January 2023, and home values seem to have peaked.
“Half the country is experiencing price declines,” says Lawrence Yun, chief economist of the National Association of Realtors.
While that sounds ominous, any correction is likely to be a modest one, housing economists and analysts say. No one expects price drops on the scale of the declines experienced during the Great Recession.
Rob Dietz, chief economist at the National Association of Home Builders, sums up the consensus among housing experts: “We’re thinking this is going to be a moderate downturn,” he says.
The real estate party raged on longer than anyone expected. The National Association of Realtors reported that median prices in the spring of 2022 topped $400,000 for the first time ever. Even after a recent retreat, prices are up 28 percent since the coronavirus pandemic began in March 2020, according to NAR data.
Now, bidding wars have largely faded, inventories are loosening and the feeling of frothiness is gone. “The market is clearly turning,” Yun says.
Is the housing market going to crash?
The last time the U.S. housing market looked so frothy was back in 2005 to 2007. Then home values crashed, with disastrous consequences. When the real estate bubble burst, the global economy plunged into the deepest downturn since the Great Depression.
Now that the housing boom is threatened by soaring mortgage rates and a potential recession, buyers and homeowners are asking a familiar question: Is the housing market bout to crash?
Housing economists agree that prices could fall further, but the decline won’t be as severe as the one homeowners experienced during the Great Recession. One obvious difference between now and then is that homeowners’ personal balance sheets are much stronger today than they were 15 years ago. The typical homeowner with a mortgage has stellar credit, a ton of equity and a fixed-rate mortgage locked in at a rate well below 5 percent. So no foreclosure crisis looms.
“The wild ride known as the U.S. housing market slowed dramatically in the fall of 2022, as mortgage rates surged and home prices remained high,” says Molly Boesel, principal economist at CoreLogic. “Home sales started strong in early 2022 but took a nosedive later in the year. On the plus side, generous amounts of home equity will protect many borrowers from experiencing the type of foreclosure activity seen during the Great Recession.”
What’s more, builders remember the Great Recession all too well, and they’ve been cautious about their pace of construction. The result is an ongoing shortage of homes for sale.
“We simply don’t have enough inventory,” Yun says. “Will some markets see a price decline? Yes,” he says. “[But] with the supply not being there, the repeat of a 30 percent price decline is highly, highly unlikely.”
- A total of 30,528 U.S. homes had foreclosure filings — default notices, scheduled auctions or bank repossessions — as of February 2023, according to ATTOM Data Solutions.
- New Jersey had the highest foreclosure rate of any state in February, at one foreclosure filing for every 2,271 housing units, according to ATTOM. It was followed by Maryland, where one in every 2,390 homes were in some stage of foreclosure.
- Lenders repossessed 3,831 U.S. properties through completed foreclosures — known as “real estate owned,” or REO — in February.
- Home sales fell 37 percent from January 2022 to January 2023, the National Association of Realtors says. The median sale price in January 2023 was $359,000.
Existing home prices
For many months, economists have been predicting that the housing market would eventually cool as home values become a victim of their own success. Home prices have risen far more quickly than incomes, creating an affordability squeeze, and mortgage rates doubled since August 2021, before starting to retreat a bit.
Experts say home prices could fall
“Most markets are going to experience price declines in the high single digits,” Dietz predicts. Home price declines of 8 to 9 percent would create some economic pain, to be sure. But this correction will be nothing like the utter collapse of property prices during the Great Recession, when some housing markets experienced a 50 percent cratering of values.
Rick Sharga, executive VP of market intelligence at ATTOM Data Solutions, expects declines of 5 percent. “It’s almost inevitable we’re going to see home prices drop,” he says.
Yun says high-priced regions such as California are most vulnerable to a downturn in prices. The Midwest, on the other hand, is unlikely to see a decline in home prices. Overall, he expects national prices to remain flat next year.
5 reasons the housing market is not about to crash
Housing economists point to five compelling reasons that no crash is imminent.
- Inventories are still very low: The National Association of Realtors says there was a 2.9-month supply of homes for sale in January. Back in February 2022, that figure was as low as a tiny 2.0-month supply. This ongoing lack of inventory explains why many buyers still have little choice but to bid up prices. And it also indicates that the supply-and-demand equation simply won’t allow a price crash in the near future.
- Builders didn’t build quickly enough to meet demand: Homebuilders pulled way back after the last crash, and they never fully ramped up to pre-2007 levels. Now, there’s no way for them to buy land and win regulatory approvals quickly enough to quench demand. While they are building as much as they can, a repeat of the overbuilding of 15 years ago looks unlikely. “The fundamental reason for the run-up in price is heightened demand and a lack of supply,” says Greg McBride, CFA, Bankrate’s chief financial analyst. “As builders bring more available homes to market, more homeowners decide to sell and prospective buyers get priced out of the market, supply and demand can come back into balance. It won’t happen overnight.”
- Demographic trends are creating new buyers: There’s strong demand for homes on many fronts. Many Americans who already owned homes decided during the pandemic that they needed bigger places, especially with the rise of working from home. Millennials are a huge group and in their prime buying years. And Hispanics are a young, growing demographic keen on homeownership.
- Lending standards remain strict: In 2007, “liar loans,” in which borrowers didn’t need to document their income, were common. Lenders offered mortgages to just about anyone, regardless of credit history or down payment size. Today, lenders impose tough standards on borrowers — and those who are getting a mortgage overwhelmingly have excellent credit. The typical credit score for mortgage borrowers in the the fourth quarter of 2022 was a high 766, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York says. “If lending standards loosen and we go back to the wild, wild west days of 2004-2006, then that is a whole different animal,” says McBride. “If we start to see prices being bid up by the artificial buying power of loose lending standards, that’s when we worry about a crash.”
- Foreclosure activity is muted: In the years after the housing crash, millions of foreclosures flooded the housing market, depressing prices. That’s not the case now. Most homeowners have a comfortable equity cushion in their homes. Lenders weren’t filing default notices during the height of the pandemic, pushing foreclosures to record lows in 2020.
All of that adds up to a consensus: Yes, home prices are still pushing the bounds of affordability. But no, this boom shouldn’t end in bust.
Actually, economists do not think it will. Housing economists point to five main reasons that the market will not crash anytime soon: low inventory, lack of new-construction housing, large amounts of new buyers, strict lending standards and a drop in foreclosures.
Home prices rose sharply for years. And while the heated market has cooled down, it’s not likely to experience an equally sharp drop soon. Greg McBride, CFA, Bankrate’s chief financial analyst, says a plateauing of prices is more likely than a steep fall. Matthew Pointon, senior property economist at Capital Economics, also expects a slowdown rather than a freefall, predicting a 5 percent drop by mid-2023.
It depends on how much money you earn versus how much you pay out in debts and expenses each month. Many financial advisors recommend the 28/36 percent rule of home affordability, which states that you should spend no more than 28 percent of your gross monthly income on housing expenses, and no more than 36 percent on total debt. Bankrate’s home affordability calculator can help you crunch the numbers.
Different minimum credit scores are required by lenders for different types of mortgages. However, a score of at least 620 is typically required for a conventional loan — and if it’s as high as 740, all the better. Successful borrowers today tend to have outstanding credit, with a median score of 766.