The U.S. housing market—which has been on an absolute tear this year—is losing some of its exuberance.
New data from realtor.com shows that the number of homes available for sale inched up 5.7% in August. That follows 8.8% and 10.4% inventory gains, respectively, in June and July. Since bottoming out this spring, inventory is up 30%.
Rising inventory, of course, gives home shoppers a little more breathing room. And boy, do they desperately need it: For much of the pandemic, homebuyers have been pitted against one another in the tightest housing market in recent memory. The lack of inventory, which hit at least a 40-year low this year, has spurred bidding wars across the nation.
So why is inventory rising now? Well, a lot is going on. Some of it is simply homebuyers pushing back at the unprecedented home price growth; with prices up 23% since the onset of the pandemic, some shoppers are opting to hold their fire. Some of it is seasonality returning to the market; in the summer and fall, would-be buyers get distracted by vacations and the restart of school. (Seasonality was notably absent last year when this boom started.)
There’s also the seller side: The prospect of cashing in on record home prices is quite enticing.
“There’s a mentality among some sellers that if they don’t sell now, they’ll miss their opportunity to get top dollar,” Ali Wolf, chief economist at Zonda, a housing market research firm, tells Fortune.
But don’t mistake this for a housing crash. Simply put: Demand from buyers still far outmatches supply.
The pandemic saw a perfect storm dry up inventory. More buyers, incentivized by recession-induced low mortgage rates and the work-from-home boom, plunged into the market. Meanwhile, many would-be sellers opted to stay put rather than move during a pandemic. Those factors are still in play and keeping inventory well below pre-COVID levels. Indeed, the 640,700 homes for sale in August on realtor.com is 38% lower than in March 2020.
“There’s been a recent uptick in inventory, but overall supply is still deeply depressed compared to pre-pandemic levels,” Wolf says. “Some existing homeowners, especially those that refinanced, are choosing to hold their home either as their primary residence or as a rental given their reasonable monthly mortgage payment.”
What’s coming next? The mortgage forbearance program, which currently protects 1.7 million homeowners, is set to lapse on Sept. 30. Some of those struggling borrowers will opt to sell rather than restart their monthly payment. That’s expected to translate into another uptick in inventory.
But even with all this cooling, home prices are still expected to rise. CoreLogic, a real estate research firm, forecast a modest 3.2% nationwide appreciation in the coming 12 months. The National Association of Realtors is just a tiny bit more bullish, forecasting a 4.4% uptick.
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