In response to the ongoing run-up in home prices over the last year the Federal Housing Finance Agency announced This Week in Real Estate that the conforming loan limits will increase by 6.9 percent to $484,350 effective January 1, 2019. Below are a few highlights from the last week of November that influence our business:
Pending Home Sales Slip 2.6% in October
Pending home sales declined slightly in October in all regions but the Northeast, according to the National Association of Realtors®. The Pending Home Sales Index, a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, decreased 2.6 percent to 102.1 in October, down from 104.8 in September. However, year-over-year contract signings dropped 6.7 percent, making this the tenth straight month of annual decreases. While the short-term outlook is uncertain, Yun stressed that he is very optimistic about the long-term outlook. The current home sales level matches sales in 2000. “However, mortgage rates are much lower today compared to earlier this century, when mortgage rates averaged 8 percent. Additionally, there are more jobs today than there were two decades ago,” said Yun. “So, while the long-term prospects look solid, we just have to get through this short-term period of uncertainty.” All four major regions saw a decline when compared to a year ago, with the West seeing the most pronounced drop. Yun said that decline is not at all surprising. “The West region experienced the fastest run-up in home prices in a short time and therefore, has essentially priced out many consumers,” Yun said. Yun pointed to year-over-year increases in active listings from data at realtor.com to illustrate a potential rise in inventory. Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, Colo., Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, Wash., Columbus, Ohio, San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, Calif. and San Diego-Carlsbad, Calif. saw the largest increase in active listings in October compared to a year ago. Yun expects existing-home sales this year to decrease 3.1 percent to 5.34 million, and the national median existing-home price to increase 4.7 percent. Looking ahead to next year, existing sales are forecast to decline 0.4 percent and home prices to drop roughly 2.5 percent.
Entry Level Home Inventory Yields Declining New Home Size
Continuing a multiyear trend, new single-family home size decreased during the third quarter of 2018. New home size has been falling over the last three years due to an incremental move to additional entry-level home construction. According to third quarter 2018 data from the Census Quarterly Starts and Completions by Purpose and Design and NAHB analysis, median single-family square floor area decreased to 2,320 square feet. Average (mean) square footage for new single-family homes declined to 2,495 square feet. Since cycle lows (and on a one-year moving average basis), the average size of new single-family homes is 8% higher at 2,565 square feet, while the median size is 13% higher at 2,369 square feet.
The post-recession increase in single-family home size is consistent with the historical pattern coming out of recessions. Typical new home size falls prior to and during a recession as home buyers tighten budgets, and then sizes rise as high-end homebuyers, who face fewer credit constraints, return to the housing market in relatively greater proportions. This pattern was exacerbated during the current business cycle due to market weakness among first-time homebuyers and supply-side constraints in the building market. But current declines in size indicate that this part of the cycle has ended, and size will trend lower as builders add more entry-level homes into inventory and the custom market cools.
Loan Limits Increase to $484,350
Given the rapid run-up in home prices over the last year, it’s no surprise that loan limits will also be going up in 2019. The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) announced that the maximum conforming loan limits for mortgages eligible for acquisition or guarantee by the two government sponsored enterprises (GSEs) Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae will be $484,350. The conforming loan limit as established by the Housing and Economic Recovery Act (HERA) is reviewed each year and adjusted as necessary to reflect the change in the average U.S. home price. The new limit represents a 6.9 percent increase over the $453,100 limit for 2018, the percentage by which FHFA’s Housing Price Index (HPI) for the third quarter of 2018 increased on an annual basis. The new limits are effective as of January 1, 2019. The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and the VA are expected to adopt the same loan limits for 2019.