Trevor H. Halpern, J.D. is the No. 1 independent agent at Phoenix-based North&Co. and the founder of the Halpern Residential real estate group.
Is a housing market crash on the way in 2021?
With the real estate market experiencing surging prices, scant inventories, and a backlog of new home construction, many consumers are wondering if what’s gone up must come back down — in other words, are we headed for another housing market crash? Let’s take a closer look.
Memories of the Great Recession Are Still Fresh
Few people foresaw the housing market crash 15 years ago that ignited a worldwide recession. Fueled by low interest rates, loose mortgage lending standards, and the nation’s unshakeable faith in homeownership, home values rose at record rates year after year. When the housing bubble burst, some nine million families lost their homes to foreclosure or short sale between 2006 and 2014. Housing values plunged 30% or more, homeowners lost a collective $7 trillion, and it took nearly a decade for most markets to recover. Even today, several local real estate markets have not fully recovered.
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With the robust market activity we’ve seen lately, are we in for a repeat housing market crash? The short answer is “not likely.” Today’s mini-boom cannot be sustained, but a crash as serious as the last one is highly unlikely because of a few determining factors:
Factor #1: Higher Lending Standards
Loose mortgage lending practices ultimately brought down some of the nation’s largest banks and mortgage companies. The fallout forced Congress and federal regulators to make significant adjustments that have since fundamentally changed how mortgage lending is regulated.
Since then, standards have been raised and the process of obtaining a mortgage is now more transparent. “Anyone can get one” types of loans are illegal, while borrowers must undergo rigorous income and asset checks. An entirely new regulatory agency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, was created to enforce this new regulatory framework. Lenders who do not comply with these standards risk severe penalties.
As a result, the housing finance marketplace is now more robust and safe than it was 15 years ago. Any dip in the housing market will be cushioned by these stricter regulations.
Factor #2: Pandemic Mortgage Forbearance
When the housing market crashed in 2007, the influx of foreclosures pumped housing supply into areas with falling prices and weak labor markets, while also preventing recently-foreclosed borrowers from re-entering the market as buyers. According to the Federal Reserve, foreclosures during a time of high unemployment could depress prices, plunging homeowners across the country deeper into negative equity.
However, in the pandemic era, the effects of mass unemployment bear little resemblance to the Great Recession, thanks in large part to forbearance programs that have allowed homeowners to postpone their monthly mortgage payments without suffering penalties.
As of early March 2021, 2.6 million homeowners’ mortgages were in such forbearance plans. As the pandemic economy has slowly recovered, many homeowners have since resumed their employment, and thus their home payments. According to CoreLogic, by the end of 2020, overall mortgage delinquencies declined 5.8% due to the forbearance program. The share of mortgages 60 to 89 days past due declined to 0.5%, lower than 0.6% in December 2019.
It’s worth noting, however, that serious delinquencies — defined as 90 days or more past due, including loans in foreclosure — increased when owners who owed large amounts left forbearance. By year end 2020, the serious delinquency rate was 3.9%, up from 1.2% in December 2019.
Inevitably, some owners in forbearance will fail to secure a loan modification or a lengthy repayment period from their lenders. Unless the government provides a bailout for these beleaguered owners, they will lose their homes when forbearances end. ATTOM Data Solutions expects at least 200,000 defaults in 2021 and a 70% increase in foreclosures over the subsequent two years ─ a significant increase from current levels, but a far cry from the 6 million foreclosures following the 2007 crash.
Factor #3: The Cushion of Homeowners’ Equity
Equity is the difference between the current market value of your home and the amount you owe on it. In other words, it’s the portion of your home’s value that you actually own. Equity can be an incentive to stay in your home longer; if prices rise — something we’ve seen almost universally across the country in recent months — your equity increases, too.
Why does this matter? Simply put, higher levels of equity cushion homeowners from default when home values fall.
Over the past decade, American homeowners have enjoyed housing stability and growth, building up large home equity reserves. In the third quarter of 2020, the average family with a mortgage had $194,000 in home equity, and the average homeowner gained approximately $26,300 in equity over the course of the year. In contrast, 2009 saw nearly a quarter of the nation’s mortgaged homes valued for less than the amount their owners actually owed on those mortgages.
Factor #4: Price Growth Will Slow, But Not Stop
The sales boom following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020 surprised many real estate economists; like most other business sectors, real estate was expected (if not required in many locations) to lock down. But by mid-April, sales were soaring as buyers, many of them millennials, took advantage of record-low mortgage interest rates. Through the remainder of 2020, rates remained below 3%, and existing home sales reached their highest level in 14 years.
The combination of solid sales and depleted supplies drove the nation’s median existing-home price for all housing types to $309,800, up 12.9% from December 2019 and marking 106 straight months of year-over-year gains.
The multi-year run of significant price increases will end, at least temporarily, but inflationary pressure on entry-level homes will continue in most markets until new home construction will relieve it. Economists at Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Mortgage Bankers Association, and the National Association of Realtors forecast median prices will rise between 3 to 8% in 2021, a significant drop from 2020 but nothing like the crash in prices seen in the last housing crash.
A Moving Target
While no one can say for sure what will happen with the real estate sector, most experts are confident that we’ll experience a market dip, but certainly not a crash. Still, it’s important to stay informed of market trends, consumer sentiments, and expert insights. Check back with Homes.com for all the latest!