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Everything Mobility Managers And Their Transferees Need to Know About The State Of Housing

Kevin Graham8-minute read

August 24, 2022

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If you listen to any media reports about the housing market, two themes become immediately apparent: interest rates are rising and home prices continue to soar. If you believe TV, it’s doom and gloom. You shouldn’t buy the hype. Besides, your workforce planning won’t allow you to wait.

It’s true that the housing market has gotten competitive over the past couple of years. Interest rates are indeed up. And yet, there are reasons for optimism. Here’s everything you need to know about today’s housing market so you can effectively help your people get where they need to be at the right time.

Where Are People Moving?

In order to understand where the hot markets are, it helps to have an idea of where people are moving. You can get that from the change of address data collected by the U.S. Postal Service. Here are the top states people are moving to when they relocate.

State

Newly migrated families

Texas

Over 12,700

Florida

More than 10,000

South Carolina

Over 10,000

North Carolina

More than 9,000

Georgia

Over 5,000

Tennessee

4,500

Nevada

3,100

Maine

2,500

Delaware

2,200

Illinois

1,800

Source: Forbes

Building Trends

With the most significant population growth concentrated across the South, it would make sense that builders would be excited to break ground in these areas.

Indeed, if we look at the 3-month average of sentiment in the Housing Market Index from the National Association of Home Builders ending in May, we see that the West and South lead the way in terms of the regional builder sentiment at 83 and 80, respectively.

All of that enthusiasm for the regions has translated into new housing inventory as well. More on inventory in just a second, but the South and West lead the nation by quite a bit in terms of both completed housing and housing starts each month. Starts are defined as units for which ground has been broken.

Still, there are many analyses that say we are well behind where we should be in terms of construction nationwide, something that’s contributed to a shortage of available homes and the rising prices seen across much of the country.

According to one analysis done by REALTOR.com, given the expected rate of household formation if the average of the last 5 years holds, we need completion of new housing units at triple the current rate to make up the shortfall.

Inventory

Building trends and expectations for the future are one thing, but what is supply like on the ground right now? For that, we can look at trends in new and existing home sales.

There are a couple of different reports regarding available housing inventory on the market: new home sales and existing home sales. Since we’ve been discussing construction, let’s start with the trends for new homes.

The traditional measure of housing inventory is how long it would take to sell every home on the market at the current pace of sales. A market is considered in balance between buyers and sellers when there’s 6 months’ worth of inventory. There’s 9 months’ supply on the market right now for new homes, so you’re thinking buyer’s market, right?

Based on prices, not so much. While we’ll get into more detail when we talk about prices later on, the median home price has increased quite rapidly since last year, in the mid-$400,000 range. What’s going on here?

It’s not only about homes being built, but the type of home being built. Based on the pricing, builders are constructing homes that are a step up from starter homes that might be cheaper. The more expensive homes appeal to families who are looking to buy their second or third home of their lifetime. They also typically offer builders a higher profit margin.

In addition, no matter how much inventory might be available on the new home side, if you look at the number of sales, existing homes outnumber new homes by a factor of like 5 to 1. The big reason for this is that existing homes tend to be cheaper than buying brand-new construction. While the median price of a new home was $450,600 in April 2022, in the same month, the median preowned home was going for $391,200.

On the existing home sales side, the inventory problem is a little more acute. According to the National Association of REALTORS®, inventory climbed in April, rising about 10.8% to 1.03 million units. Still, this is down 10.4% from last year at the same time. Inventory of existing homes on the market is only at 2.2 months. Sellers have a definite advantage.

Prices

Unless you work in construction, you can’t do anything to make more houses. It’s also not something that appears with the snap of a finger. Given low inventory, prices are on the rise as well. But while this is still a problem, this is one area where you as a mobility manager may be able to help. First, let’s briefly see the market we’re up against.

We briefly alluded to this earlier, but the median price of a new home is up about 19.5% year-over-year at $450,600. When it comes to existing homes, prices are up 14.8% year-over-year in April at $391,200.

Another widely cited measure of home prices is the S&P Case-Shiller Home Price Index. They have a variety of ways of slicing up this data, but perhaps the most cited is a rolling 3-month average of prices in 20 major metropolitan U.S. cities. Here, the latest data shows that home prices are up 21.17% in the last year.

As a mobility manager, one way to combat this would be to analyze the housing markets where you’re planning to transfer people. You could tie the level of the housing assistance you offer, in part, to prices in the area as part of your standard cost-of-living adjustment. In doing this, you help blunt the high cost of finding new housing incurred by your transferee.

Home Equity

There is something happening in the market right now that’s both beneficial to an employee who has a home and needs to transfer and doesn’t cost companies a dime. As of the fourth quarter of last year, Americans have a record $2.6 trillion in equity they could tap.

Tappable equity is defined as equity that could be used in a cash-out refinance, a home equity loan or line of credit. Because you typically have to leave at least 20% equity in your home to take advantage of one of these options, that means this doesn’t even account for all the equity that may be available to homeowners.

According to the analysis, done by the research firm Black Knight, the average American has $185,000 in tappable equity that they could take with them and use to buy a new home. So while prices might be high, that should make things more bearable for existing homeowners.

Interest Rates

Inflation is a hot button issue affecting nearly everything that’s bought and sold in this country. As you saw when we talked about prices, housing has been no exception.

There are really three reasons inflation is as high as it is: First, economic shutdowns related to COVID-19 have caused supply chain disruptions that the economy still hasn’t recovered from.

Second, Russia’s actions in Ukraine have caused numerous countries around the world, including the U.S., to stop importing oil from the country in addition to imposing sanctions. However, because Russia is a major oil producer, this puts pressure on supply and drives prices up.

Finally, as part of an effort to prop up the economy at the height of the pandemic, a series of three stimulus checks were sent to much of America. The Federal Reserve also slashed the federal funds rate to near 0%. Because banks use this as a benchmark, rates fell across-the-board. The combination of more money in their pockets and cheap borrowing costs meant that people could spend more. This also makes them more willing to pay higher prices, which contributes heavily to inflation.

Of those three factors, the only one the Federal Reserve has control over is the federal funds rate. By raising it, the Fed can make the cost of borrowing more expensive. In theory, over time, people will spend less and prices will come down or increase at a more moderate pace as a result.

This year, the Federal Reserve has increased the federal funds rate three times by a total of 1.5%. It’s not done either. Several more increases are expected this year. Now it’s just a question of how many and how much.

It’s important to note that the federal funds rate doesn’t have a direct effect on mortgage rates because mortgage rates are based on demand for mortgage-backed securities (MBS). However, the Fed also exerts major influence in this area.

Housing is one of the major pillars of the U.S. economy, and the Fed knows it. Because of this, in response to the pandemic, one of the actions the Fed undertook was to buy tons of mortgage bonds. On its balance sheet, the Fed holds $2.7 trillion worth of MBS.

Because mortgage investors were secure in the knowledge that the Fed was a willing buyer, they were able to offer lower yields than they would normally use to attract investors. This contributed to several years of historically low mortgage rates.

As we’ve discussed, cheaper borrowing means people are willing to pay higher prices. And indeed, prices have gone up quite quickly as a result. Now, with the economy on stronger footing, the Fed has released plans to sell off its mortgage-backed securities. It’s going to happen slowly at first with a more rapid drawdown of the balance sheet later this year.

As the Federal Reserve exits, other investors are going to require higher yields to invest in mortgage bonds. This pushes rates up. Between the market knowing this was coming and also having rates following the same direction as the federal funds rate, the average rate on a 30-year fixed is up 2.55% since January, according to Freddie Mac data.

Believe it or not, there are actually three good things you can take out of this. The first is that while higher than in recent years, interest rates aren’t as high as they have been. Recently, the average 30-year fixed-rate was up over 2% from January.

As we mentioned above, higher prices were at least partially supported by low interest rates. Given this, as rates rise, prices should start to – if not come down – at least level off. Sellers will begin to realize that buyers can’t sustain ever higher price increases as rates rise.

Price hikes may not stop overnight, but with higher rates, there may be certain people who drop out of the market until rates level off or come back down. That means a higher chance for your transferee to get their offer accepted because there will be fewer bidding wars.

The other good news is that companies looking to transfer employees can help here as well. For example, as part of relocation assistance packages, a company could offer to pay the cost of a temporary interest-based subsidy to lower your relocating employee’s interest rate for a period of time.

Alternatively, a company could use a sliding scale to provide the employee with a certain number of discount points to buy down the interest rate for a permanent rate reduction (assuming a fixed-rate loan).

The Bottom Line

While it’s certainly not the easiest time to buy a home, there are plenty of things you can implement with the idea of helping your relocating employees move more affordably. Additionally, rising interest rates may cool the housing market just enough to make homes more modestly priced. The amount of home equity available is also a huge boost for your relocating employees who already own homes.

Now that you know what’s happening in the market, you can speak with your Rocket Mortgage® Relocation Team to discuss your options in adjusting to conditions that might impact your mobility program. Go to Relocation.RocketMortgage.com to learn more.

Kevin

Kevin Graham

Kevin Graham is a Senior Blog Writer for Rocket Companies. He specializes in economics, mortgage qualification and personal finance topics. As someone with cerebral palsy spastic quadriplegia that requires the use of a wheelchair, he also takes on articles around modifying your home for physical challenges and smart home tech. Kevin has a BA in Journalism from Oakland University. Prior to joining Rocket Mortgage, he freelanced for various newspapers in the Metro Detroit area.