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Fed Governor Bowman: The U.S. Housing and Mortgage Market: Risks and Resilience

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by Calculated Risk on 11/08/2021 12:08:00 PM

From Fed Governor Michelle Bowman, At the Women in Housing and Finance Public Policy Luncheon, Washington, D.C., The U.S. Housing and Mortgage Market: Risks and Resilience. Bowman comments on house prices and the end of the forbearance programs. Here are here comments on house prices:

Home prices had been rising at a moderate rate since 2012, but since mid-2020, their growth has accelerated significantly. In total, home prices in September were 21 percent higher than in June 2020. Home price increases are also widespread. In September, about 90 percent of American cities had experienced rising home prices over the past three months, and the home price increases were substantial in most of these cities.

These sharp increases raise the concern that housing is overvalued and that home prices may decline. Historically, large home price increases are somewhat less concerning if they are supported by economic fundamentals rather than speculation. Fundamentals certainly seem to be a large part of the story behind the increases we’ve seen since the middle of last year. The demand for housing has risen for several reasons. Interest rates are low, families have accumulated savings, and income growth in the past 18 months has been quite strong. Families are also reconsidering where, and in what kind of home, they want to live. Purchases of second homes, for example, have been somewhat high in the past 18 months. Meanwhile, the supply of new homes has been held back by shortages of materials, labor, and developed lots.

Another reason to be less concerned about the recent escalation in home prices is that we do not see much of the decline in underwriting standards that fueled the home price bubble in the mid-2000s. Mortgage underwriting standards have remained conservative relative to the mid-2000s, in part because of the mortgage policy reforms that were put in place in the aftermath of the housing crisis. Investor activity is subdued relative to that time as well.

Nonetheless, home prices do decline from time to time. In inflation-adjusted terms, U.S. home prices fell from 1979 to 1982 and from 1989 to 1993, although by much less than from 2006 to 2012. Although the declines in national home prices were modest in some of these episodes, some areas of the country experienced sharp declines. As we all know, home price declines cause problems and strain throughout the economy. To give just one example, families and small business owners borrow against their homes to fund big-ticket purchases and business expansions, and house price declines make it harder to use homes as loan collateral. This effect can be amplified if a credit crunch occurs, in which lenders react to the decline in house prices by pulling back on their lending. With banks and the broader financial system currently quite robust, such a credit crunch seems unlikely. Nonetheless, I know how painful these declines can be, especially in certain markets. For example, from my experience living in rural Kansas, I understand how smaller communities with a less diversified housing and employment base can take a long time to recover from a fall in home prices. I wonder also about communities with a sizable share of second-home owners. So I will continue to watch the incoming data closely.

Falling home prices would certainly be very dramatic, but continued outsized increases could also be problematic. First, high home prices make it more difficult for low- to moderate-income households to become homeowners, as larger down payments and other financing requirements effectively lock these households out of the housing market. Second, and related to one of the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy goals, rising home prices and rents raise the cost of housing. Because housing costs are a large share of living expenses for most people, these increases are adding to current inflationary pressures in the economy. Indeed, we are already seeing sizable increases in rent and owners’ equivalent rent in many parts of the country.
emphasis added

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