The prevailing theory is that this real estate cycle will be considerably better than others as so many people locked in rock bottom rates which will serve as “golden handcuffs” and prevent a meaningful increase in inventory. How accurate is this theory? What is the recent data showing us (hint; look at the chart above). How will the golden handcuffs impact real estate inventory and in turn prices?
Will Golden Handcuffs hold back inventory? What does the data on Austin, TX show us?
Austin, one of the hottest pandemic markets, shows that the “lock-in effect” of golden handcuffs may not be the ironclad defense against home-price declines that some investors and homeowners think it is. As the thinking goes, homeowners aren’t supposed to willingly part with their below-3% 30-year mortgages when they would have to turn around and replace them with new home loans that carry interest rates above 7%.
In Austin, what appears to be happening is an effort to time the top of the market. Like stock traders, Austin homeowners and investors who bought their properties before the boom appear to be rushing to cash in their chips. “I suspect that people are nervous that home values are going to fall, so they’re trying to sell even if they have low interest rates,” said Jim Gaines, a research economist at the Texas Real Estate Research Center.
A similar story is playing out in Denver
Denver is replicating what is happening in Austin with median and average home prices plummeting and inventory rising sharply. These same trends are beginning to happen in Covid “Boomtowns” throughout the country and eventually these same trends will spread to other markets throughout the country.
|Homes on market
“Golden Handcuffs” is a short-term phenomenon
There has been a theory that the ultra-low rates would prevent inventory from rising and furthermore we have a huge inventory shortage which will keep prices from falling. Unfortunately, this narrative is only partially true in the short term.
Depending on the economy if we have a very shallow recession and rates peak soon and then fall back shortly, the golden handcuffs scenario will likely hold up as property owners wait out the market.
The reality is that rates will likely remain higher for longer and the recession could also be deeper and longer. Higher rates for longer are the base case for most economists which means that inventory will ultimately increase for 3 reasons:
- Life Happens: Divorce, Marriage, kids, deaths, etc… In the short term if there is an economic hiccup most will hold on for a little while, but you can’t plan life around the economy and eventually life happens. From Marriage, Divorce, job changes, kids, empty nesters, deaths, etc… all these events will ultimately cause a sale or purchase of real estate which will cause real estate to turn. How extensive these events are will depend on how long the recession lasts and how high rates remain.
- Unemployment rate will increase: It is not possible to get inflation under control without addressing the wage pressures in the labor market. We are already seeing many high tech companies cut headcount from Google, Microsoft, Amazon, etc… As rates rise, the unemployment rate must also rise which will force people to give up the golden handcuffs.
- Migration back: As the unemployment rate rises, the bargaining power of employees will decline. You will see more companies requiring workers back in the office and/or adjusting pay to compensate for the location. Both changes will likely force migration from rural areas to more urban/suburban areas.
What happens to real estate prices?
There are two primary scenarios that could play out depending on the depth of the next recession and how high the federal reserve must raise rates
- Golden Handcuffs buffer the market: Under this scenario rates peak early next year and quickly come down as inflation falls and we enter a mild scenario. This is the optimistic case which would lead to about a 10% decline in prices
- Base case of higher rates for longer prevails: If inflation doesn’t come down as quickly as the market is pricing in and the federal reserve is forced to raise rates higher for longer the odds of a deeper recession increase. Under this scenario, look for prices to fall 10-20% in most markets.
Just like earlier in the year where everyone was stating that we were short millions of houses and yet inventory is now increasing substantially (not from new construction), there is a big question about how tight the “golden handcuffs” of low rates will be. We are getting preliminary data from cities like Austin and Denver that there are other factors driving people to sell thereby increasing inventory and leading to decreasing prices.
How this scenario ultimately plays out will be determined by how high rates must rise to tame inflation and in turn how deep and long the next recession is. My base case scenario is for a drop of around 10% in real estate prices, with a probable scenario of a drop as large as 20%. We should get better information on inflation in December and earlier next year to see which scenario will be more likely.
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Written by Glen Weinberg, COO/ VP Fairview Commercial Lending. Glen has been published as an expert in hard money lending, real estate valuation, financing, and various other real estate topics in Bloomberg, Businessweek ,the Colorado Real Estate Journal, National Association of Realtors Magazine, The Real Deal real estate news, the CO Biz Magazine, The Denver Post, The Scotsman mortgage broker guide, Mortgage Professional America and various other national publications.
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