Rent Will Be Even Less Affordable in 2016

December 24, 2015, 6:30 PM UTC

Housing to slump, again

Gary Shilling, an economist in New Jersey, delights journalists with his dour forecasts. Fear makes good headlines, of course, and he's good at making them. Problem is, he's been wrong on his biggest short -- U.S. housing -- all year. Shilling warned of a wave of foreclosures in 2012, predicting that some 3 million to 5 million homes would remain in a shadow inventory, flooding the market and hurting all U.S. home prices. But that just hasn't happened. Foreclosures are hitting markets at an orderly pace, in large part because so many foreclosures have occurred in states like Florida that require a judge to approve the process. As Shilling cried wolf in 2012, homebuilder stocks roared back, home prices steadily rose, and new homes couldn't be built fast enough in the U.S. Time for a new short, Gary.
Photograph Scott Olson via Getty Images

Currently, high rents and rising home prices are hitting Americans on all fronts, and 2016 will reinforce how the lack of affordable housing is playing out for so many Americans. With that in mind, here are five trends you can expect to see in the New Year:

First-time home-buyers will be older than ever
In 2015, the median age of first-time homebuyers was 33, four years older than in 1975. In 2016, expect first time buyers to be even older. Millennials, the oldest of whom are 35, want to buy homes, but are having trouble saving for a down payment, especially while they are paying record-high rent prices in the parts of the country where many of them live to find lucrative jobs: the Bay Area, Boston, Los Angeles, Seattle, and New York.

Mortgage access also remains relatively tight and inventory, especially for entry-level homes, will remain low throughout the next year. New home construction is not geared toward the bottom end of the market and many homes priced in the bottom third of the market are still locked up in negative equity. At the same time, this generation is putting off major life decisions that go along with buying a home. They’re getting married and having kids later than previous generations– All of which adds up to an older first-time buyer.

Rent prices will continue to rise
There simply aren’t enough affordable rentals in the places young people want to live. The median rent in San Francisco is up 15% over the last year – and that represents a slowdown! As people delay homeownership, there’s just not enough supply. Too much demand leads to rising rents. Renters in several California cities, for example, can already expect to spend nearly half of their monthly income on a rental payment, which doesn’t leave much left over to save for a down payment — meaning folks continue to rent when they might otherwise be moving onto homeownership.

Rising home values will continue to outpace income
Home values will rise slower in 2016 than they have in previous years, but they are still expected to rise faster than incomes. That means housing affordability will suffer. As our economy returns to normal after the Great Recession, it’s understandable to cheer the housing recovery. On a monthly basis, owning a home is affordable, especially compared to rent. But the rising tide of the recovery has not lifted all ships equally.

Renters who want to buy will still face significant barriers to homeownership in 2016. One of the toughest to overcome will be saving up for a down payment while paying record-high rents. In 2016, stagnant incomes and rising home values will mean homeownership will drift even further out of reach, especially for low-income earners, whose incomes have been largely flat over the last decade.

It will also continue to be tough to find a home to buy. Zillows Negative Equity Report for the third quarter of 2015 found 13.4% percent of homeowners remain underwater with their mortgage balances exceeding their homes value. Throughout the recovery, the least valuable homes have been about three times as likely to be underwater. The persistent problem traps low-income homeowners in their homes and keeps affordable homes off the market.

People seeking affordable housing will re-invent the suburbs
An increasingly unaffordable rental market will have an effect on more than just cities. As millennials get older and become a bigger part of the housing market, neighborhoods will change to attract them. Affordable urban living within cities is increasingly scarce, which means those seeking affordable housing will turn to suburbs in 2016, but not just any suburbs. They will seek out walkable, urban, amenity-rich mini-cities within driving distance of the city. These suburbs will be 2016’s new hot spots.

Home values will level off in most of the country
There is some good news: home values are not crashing, nor are they inflating too quickly in most places. In 2014, home values grew at about 6%. In 2015, that rate slowed to just over 4%. In 2016, we anticipate home-value growth to continue to slow to 3.5% – in line with long-term historical levels – but still faster than wage growth. During the early recovery, we saw many markets experience unsustainable double-digit growth as home values quickly regained lost value with increased demand and limited supply. As supply has been slowly increasing in some markets and demand – especially driven by investors – has normalized, home value appreciation, too, has trended down towards the long-run average on our way to a more “healthy and normal” real estate market.

Svenja Gudell is the chief economist of Zillow.

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