January 24, 2024
Mortgage rates are plummeting, but how far will they fall?
Note: You can find the charts & graphs for the Big Story at the end of the following section.
A 1.18% mortgage rate drop matters … a lot
The next Fed meeting isn’t until the end of January, but financial markets have already made major assumptions about what the Fed will do in 2024. In the December 2023 meeting, Fed members indicated there would likely be three 0.25% cuts to the fed funds rate by the end of 2024, but they noted a high degree of uncertainty. Markets took this news and made their own conclusions. As of January 3, 2024, fed funds futures traders (the people who make a lot of money being right about where rates will go) expect the Fed to cut the federal funds rate by a quarter point six times in 2024. Currently, the fed funds rate is between 5.25% and 5.50%.
In any case, for the >70% of homebuyers who finance their purchases with mortgages, rate cuts are very good news, as shown by the month-over-month increase in sales. However, even before the December meeting, economic indicators seemed favorable for rate cuts, which, in part, caused mortgage rates to drop 0.57% in November 2023 — a significant fall from the 23-year high of 7.79% in October. Markets move a lot faster than the Fed, and the 1.18% mortgage rate drop in November and December brings to mind the trends we saw in the first quarter of 2022. In December 2021, Fed Chair Jerome Powell stated that they were increasing rates beginning in March 2022, but mortgage rates increased by about a point in the first quarter even before the Fed made any changes.
The 1.18% decline in mortgage rates has set the stage for a much busier spring and summer season, although we still expect a relatively slow first quarter. Interest rates are still too high for potential buyers and sellers to rush back to the market, especially when they expect further rate cuts. However, if mortgage rates were to drop another point to around 5.5%, a huge number of participants would jump back into the market. Remember that every 1% decrease in interest rates roughly equates to a 10% decrease in monthly financing costs. The inverse is also true, which is why rates have priced buyers out of the market and remain the primary cause of the market slowdown over the past two years.
Because inventory hasn’t grown, prices haven’t meaningfully declined. In fact, home prices currently fall only 8% below the June 2022 all-time high, which means that any savings will likely come from rate drops. Even if a significant number of sellers come to market, there’s enough pent-up demand that inventory won’t be able to grow enough for prices to stagnate or decline outside of normal seasonal trends. On top of that, home prices almost always appreciate. In other words, betting on home prices to decline is statistically similar to betting on 00 in roulette. Nationally, the median price will likely hit a new all-time high in June 2024. The National Association of Realtors’ Chief Economist Lawrence Yun recently remarked that home prices keep marching higher, and only a dramatic rise in supply will dampen price appreciation.
Different regions and individual houses vary from the broad national trends, so we’ve included a Local Lowdown below to provide you with in-depth coverage for your area. In general, higher-priced regions (the West and Northeast) have been hit harder by mortgage rate hikes than less expensive markets (the South and Midwest) because of the absolute dollar cost of the rate hikes and limited ability to build new homes. As always, we will continue to monitor the housing and economic markets to best guide you in buying or selling your home.
Note: You can find the charts/graphs for the Local Lowdown at the end of this section.
Median prices close 2023 up 3% for single-family homes and 7% for condos
In San Francisco, home prices haven’t been largely affected by rising mortgage rates after the initial period of price correction from May 2022 to July 2022. Since July 2022, the median single-family home and condo prices have hovered around $1.5 million and $1.2 million, respectively. Month over month, in December, the median single-family home price rose 7%, while condo prices declined 7%; but, year over year, the median prices were up 3% for single-family homes and 7% for condos. We expect prices to remain fairly stable in the winter months, but as interest rates decline and more sellers come to the market, prices will almost certainly rise in the first half of 2024. Additionally, the sustained downward inventory and low number of new listings will only raise prices as demand grows. More homes, however, must come to the market in the spring and summer to get anything close to a healthy market.
High mortgage rates soften both supply and demand, so ideally, as rates fall, far more sellers will come to the market. Rising demand can only do so much for the market if there isn’t supply to meet it. Unlike 2023 inventory, 2024 inventory has a much better chance of following more typical seasonal patterns.
Single-family home and condo inventory hit all-time lows as new listings dropped in November and December
Since the start of 2023, single-family home inventory has followed fairly typical seasonal trends, but at a significantly depressed level, while condo inventory has been in decline since May 2022. Low inventory and fewer new listings have slowed the market considerably. Typically, inventory peaks in July or August and declines through December or January, but the lack of new listings prevented meaningful inventory growth. Last year, sales peaked in May, while new listings and inventory peaked in September. New listings have been exceptionally low, so the little inventory growth throughout the year was driven by fewer sales. In November and December, new listings dropped significantly without a proportional drop in sales, causing inventory to fall to an all-time low, which further highlights how unusual inventory patterns have been over the past year. With inventory at historic lows, the number of new listings coming to market is a significant predictor of sales. Month over month, new listings fell 53% and sales declined 27%. Year over year, sales and new listings are down 10% and 67%, respectively. Total inventory is down 32% year over year.
As demand slows, buyers are gaining more negotiating power and paying slightly less than asking price on average. In June 2023, the average seller received 102% of list price, compared to 96% of list in December. Inventory will almost certainly remain historically low for the next few months, and buyer competition will ramp up meaningfully in the spring, which will drive price appreciation.
Months of Supply Inventory in December 2023 indicated a sellers’ market
Months of Supply Inventory (MSI) quantifies the supply/demand relationship by measuring how many months it would take for all current homes listed on the market to sell at the current rate of sales. The long-term average MSI is around three months in California, which indicates a balanced market. An MSI lower than three indicates that there are more buyers than sellers in the market (meaning it’s a sellers’ market), while a higher MSI indicates there are more sellers than buyers (meaning it’s a buyers’ market). The San Francisco market tends to favor sellers, at least for single-family homes, which is reflected in its low MSI. However, we’ve seen over the past 12 months that this isn’t always the case. MSI has been volatile, moving between a buyers’ and sellers’ market throughout the year. MSI declined substantially in December, and currently indicates that the single-family home and condo markets favor sellers.
Our team is committed to continuing to serve all your real estate needs while incorporating safety protocol to protect all of our loved ones.
In addition, as your local real estate experts, we feel it’s our duty to give you, our valued client, all the information you need to better understand our local real estate market. Whether you’re buying or selling, we want to make sure you have the best, most pertinent information, so we’ve put together this monthly analysis breaking down specifics about the market.
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