Home price growth decelerates again—forecast models say the peak rate is behind us

Homebuyers got absolutely scorched last year as home price appreciation climbed to its highest level in tabulated history.

That said, the worst of the run on prices could be behind us. On Tuesday, we learned that home price growth had decelerated for the third consecutive month—after having accelerated in the 15 prior months. According to the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Index, U.S. home prices rose 18.8% between November 2020 and November 2021. That’s down from the all-time high 12-month rate (20%) set between August 2020 and August 2021.

At first glance, this deceleration doesn’t look like much. After all, 18.8% price growth is still off the charts. But when you zoom in to the monthly rate, you see a different picture. See, the latest year-over-year figure still includes the insane 2021 spring housing market—a period that saw U.S. home bidding wars hit an all-time high. Between March and April, the one-month appreciation rate peaked at 2.3%. In our most recent month-over-month period, that rate was just 0.9%. That latter figure would equal 10.4% if the latest monthly rate were sustained over a 12-month period—and that’s well below the current 18.8% top-line growth figure.

Where do we go from here? Every leading real estate forecast model reviewed by Fortune predicts this home price growth deceleration—which started in September—will continue in 2022. The most bullish outlook comes from Zillow, which predicts home prices will jump 11% this year. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac say home prices will jump 8.4% and 6%, respectively, in 2022. While that’s lower than the 18.8% we’ve seen over the most recent 12-month period, it’s still above the average rate of appreciation (4.6%) home prices have gone up annually since 1980.

But not all forecasters are calling for strong appreciation levels this year. For the coming 12 months, Redfin says home prices will climb 3%. That’s pretty close to the forecast price growth rates by Realtor.com (2.9%) and CoreLogic (2.8%). Meanwhile, the Mortgage Bankers Association has the lowest 2022 price growth forecast—predicting median existing home prices will rise just 2.3% this year.

Even if the rate of price growth continues to decelerate, it doesn’t mean home shoppers will get any relief on the cost front. The underlying reason these forecast models predict price growth will slow in 2022 isn’t just because they’re predicting the housing market will cool down a bit. It can also be attributed to the expectation that mortgage rates will shoot up this year as the Federal Reserve works to tame inflation. As mortgage rates rise, so do monthly mortgage payments and the ability for homebuyers to bid up prices. Essentially, it’s a wash: The savings from reduced home price growth gets canceled out by the increased mortgage payments.

“The problem is not everyone is in a place where they can easily afford the higher monthly payments as a result of the higher mortgage rates. In this case, some shoppers need to shift down their search price,” Ali Wolf, chief economist at Zonda, a housing market research firm, told Fortune. Over the past month alone, we’ve seen the average 30-year fixed mortgage rate jump from 3.11% in December to 3.56% as of last week. The closer the 30-year fixed mortgage rate gets to 4%, Wolf says, the more of a drag it’ll have on home price growth.

Regardless of where mortgage rates go, the next several months are going to be rough for homebuyers. There’s simply not enough homes for sale right now as we head into the spring real estate market. At this point last year, inventory levels on Zillow were 25% below the same point in 2019. This year, inventory is 38% below 2019 levels. That puts us on a path for another frenzied spring.

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