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As Recession Fears Rise, Here’s the Lowdown for Real Estate

Excerpt from Realtor.com. Read the complete story.

Will home prices and sales plummet in a recession?

Aspiring buyers hoping that home prices will crash, like they did during the Great Recession, are likely in for a rude awakening. There simply aren’t enough homes being built to satisfy the hordes of buyers. And with more members of the giant millennial generation wanting single-family homes in which to raise their growing families, there isn’t likely to be a drop-off in demand anytime soon.

But the anticipation of a recession in itself could make the housing shortage even worse. Worried would-be sellers may decide to postpone listing until they can get top dollar for their properties.

Yet although a lack of homes for sale typically drives up prices, that effect could be mitigated if there are fewer folks who can afford to buy. In a recession, it could become harder to find a good-paying job or steady freelance work. Even those who remain gainfully employed may worry about their job stability.

“If we do go into a recession, there will be layoffs,” says Ali Wolf, director of economic research at Meyers Research, a national real estate consultancy. “If you move from a two-income household to a one-income household, it doesn’t change the desire to own. But it does impact the ability.”

Realtor.com’s Ratiu believes prices will flatten, but likely not fall. Meanwhile, the number of home sales will also remain flat or potentially even dip, he believes.

Other economists expect the recession to take a bigger toll on housing.

“With people having PTSD from the last time, they’re still afraid of buying at the wrong time,” Wolf says. “But prices aren’t likely to fall 50% like they did last time.

“We do expect prices will fall marginally,” she continues. The priciest parts of the country, which saw the biggest price hikes, could see the biggest price corrections. Sales could decline anywhere from 10% to 20%, she predicts.

The luxury market is already seeing price decreases. These high-end homes, usually in the range of $1 million and up, are usually considered a bellwether for the greater housing market.

A big wild card in all of this is mortgage interest rates, which were at an ultralow 3.55% for a 30-year, fixed-rate loan as of Thursday, according to Freddie Mac data. If they continue to fall, it could

 

Could rentals become cheaper?

Those hoping for rental prices to be slashed will probably be disappointed as well.

“We expect a little bit of an impact,” says Greg Willett, chief economist at RealPage, a property management technology and analytics company for apartment buildings. “But it’s not doom and gloom.”

He expects apartment price hikes to slow from 3% annually to more minor 1.5% or 2% price increases over the next few years. The rental market is likely to be buffered by those nervous about making what could be the largest purchase of their lives, a home, in uncertain economic times. Those folks may decide to live in a rental until the economy is booming again.

The exception, again, is the luxury rental market. Developers may have to offer concessions (e.g., a free month’s rent) or lower prices a little to attract wealthier tenants. But that isn’t likely to trickle down to the middle or even lower end of the rental market.

Will builders stop putting up badly needed new homes?

A recession could make builders even more reluctant to break ground on new residences, particularly in the priciest markets on the coasts.

A year ago, about 10% of single-family home builders offered buyers incentives such as discounts to go under contract, says National Association of Home Builders Chief Economist Robert Dietz. Today, about 40% are turning to incentives to spur home sales. That’s not a good sign.

Tariffs on building materials such as steel are already making construction more expensive. And the construction worker shortage is severely limiting the number of homes that can be built. A downturn could make this worse.

“You’ll [have] some local markets where home construction declines,” says Dietz. “Some prospective home buyers could be concerned about making that purchase.”

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