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Is real estate following crypto and stocks to a bloodbath following Redfin and Compass layoffs?

June 15, 2022, 2:06 PM UTC

As inflation surges and many central banks have begun a cycle of tightening monetary policy, concerns are rising that the housing market could soon be heading the same way as stocks and cryptocurrencies if the economic climate cools demand for property.

A report from Redfin in May — 12 months after the company said median U.S. home sale prices rose by a record 26% year-on-year — suggested that American demand for real-estate may be waning, with one in five sellers dropping their list price as homebuying competition plateaued.

Last week, the organization said housing inventory was climbing “as buyers back off,” with the share of listings with price reductions approaching a record high.

According to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau, new home sales fell to a 12-month low in April, with the number of new privately-owned houses sold seeing a 27% year-on-year decline.

Meanwhile, data from the U.S. Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) revealed last week that mortgage applications in America for the week ending June 3 were down 6.5% from a week earlier.

U.S. 30-year mortgage rates reached 5.3% in May, according to data from Freddie Mac, their highest level since 2009.

The MBA’s mortgage application statistics, which included an adjustment for the Memorial Day holiday, showed that applications had plummeted to a 22-year low, according to Joel Kan, the MBA’s associate vice president of economic and industry forecasting.

On Tuesday, two of the biggest names in U.S. real estate—Redfin and Compass—announced mass layoffs in another sign that slowing demand is hitting the sector.

Google searches in the U.S. for the term “homes for sale” fell by around 6% from a year earlier in the week ending June 11.

Global phenomenon

The U.S. isn’t the only market where growth in house prices is looking a little slippery.

Earlier this year, the European Systemic Risk Board warned that house prices and mortgage credit had “decoupled” from the rest of the EU economy, with both accelerating across the bloc even as economic and disposable income growth were slowing.

Meanwhile, house prices in China—where policymakers have slashed interest rates in a bid to salvage the country’s slumping real estate market—fell in 70 major cities last month.

Elsewhere, the U.K.’s annual rate of house price growth fell to 11.2% in May from 14.3% in March, with analysts saying economic uncertainty was prompting people to reconsider before moving house.

Outlook uncertain

A recent Reuters survey of real-estate experts in nine key markets around the world found that many analysts believed huge price rises may be coming to an end—but housing wouldn’t necessarily become more affordable against the rising cost of living.

Meanwhile, UBS analysts said in a note this month that the “golden child” of real-estate was losing its shine as global listings fared poorly in May.

In a tweet on Wednesday, the world’s richest man Elon Musk suggested that he believed the sector was headed the same way as stocks and crypto, both of which have seen massive sell-offs in recent weeks.

Walter Boettcher, head of research and economics at Colliers, told Fortune in an email on Wednesday that he suspected commercial real-estate would also be impacted by the economic environment, although some investors may be tempted to assume that commercial property would be insulated from problems like the Ukraine war, rising interest rates and global inflation.  

“Much will depend on how aggressive U.S. monetary policy proves to be,” he said. “I do not see any catastrophic repricings, certainly no ‘Lehmans moment’ as in 2008 with an associated global systemic collapse. Instead, various markets will respond at a measured pace.”

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