Economist: ‘Particular concern’ for first-time homeowners amid rising mortgage rates

Apr 24, 2022, 7:13 AM
(Chris Schmich via Flickr)
(Chris Schmich via Flickr)

With the average 30-year fixed mortgage rate rising to 5.11% as of Thursday, prospective homeowners might be wondering if now is the right time to buy before the Federal Reserve further tamps down on inflation with higher interest rates, as signaled by comments made by chair Jerome H. Powell Thursday.

“We’re in a situation with very significant inflationary pressures … We’ve seen a massive jump of two percentage points over the last three months since the Fed made that announcement,” Matthew Gardner, Windermere’s chief economist, told KIRO Newsradio.

“That’s gonna make housing more expensive. But the particular concern I have is for the first-time buyer, because now for every one percentage point jump in mortgage rates a buyer can afford to spend 10% less on a house to keep the payments the same.”

The million-dollar question is to what extent the Federal Reserve will manipulate interest rates in the coming months. Gardner could see the Fed going either way, with the caveat that home prices will mostly stay on an upward trend.

“Maybe rates will come back down again. I think actually, that’s quite possible, but certainly not back to the levels we saw with a sub-3 % 30-year rate. We’ll potentially see a marginal drop, but not until the end of this year at the start of maybe 2023. Now, if you wait, what’s going to happen to home prices? They’re certainly not coming down. So they’re just going to continue to rise,” Gardner continued.

Economist: Puget Sound region housing market appreciation ‘unsustainable’

“But would it make sense to wait? I just don’t think it does. Because home prices are going to continue to increase at a slower pace than we’ve seen throughout the last few years. But it’s still going to go up,” the economist said, with the note that taking on an uncomfortable amount of debt is always a mistake.

Complicating Seattle’s real estate market is the fact that luxury home building is a more attractive market for developers: there is not enough of a return on development targeted toward first-time buyers.

“What most builders are doing is they’re building to the upper end of the luxury segment of the market. However, where all the demand is, or at least a significant share of the demand is with those first-time buyers, and very few or any builders are building to that demographic because it’s just too expensive to build,” Gardner offered.

As for predicting just how high interest rates will go, his opinion is that they won’t resemble late 20th century rates that peaked at 18% and will, instead, begin to level off.

“I think we’re going to move away from a remarkably frenetic market and slowly trend towards a bit more of a balanced market, but that’s going to take some time,” Gardner noted.

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Economist: ‘Particular concern’ for first-time homeowners amid rising mortgage rates