‘Buyers need to act’: Debt ceiling panic threatens to spike mortgage rates and ruin a rosier outlook for the housing market

‘Buyers need to act’: Debt ceiling panic threatens to spike mortgage rates and ruin a rosier outlook for the housing market

Mortgage rates remained on an upward trend as President Joe Biden hastily negotiated to raise the US debt ceiling.

Realtor.com economist Jiayi Xu believes the likelihood of a default is low, but panic triggered by the potential of a government default could push creditors to ask for higher interest rates from the Treasury — which would result in a major increase in borrowing costs, including on mortgages.

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“Resolving the debt impasse sooner rather than later would mitigate potential adverse effects on the housing market, which is already competing with high prices and elevated mortgage rates,” Xu said.

While rising rates have substantially lowered demand, some buyers are willing to do whatever it takes to secure a home loan before rates increase even further.

30-year fixed-rate mortgages

The 30-year average fixed rate climbed to 6.57% this week, compared to last week’s average of 6.39%.

A year ago at this time, America’s most popular home loan averaged 5.10%.

“Dampened affordability remains an issue for interested homebuyers, and homeowners seem unwilling to lose their low rates and put their homes on the market,” says Sam Khater, chief economist at housing giant Freddie Mac.

“If this predicament continues to limit supply, it could open up an opportunity for builders to help address the country’s housing shortage.”

15-year fixed-rate mortgages

The average rate on a 15-year home loan also increased from 5.75% to 5.97% this week. This time a year ago, the 15-year fixed-rate averaged 4.31%.

“Although buyers, sellers and builders are all the more optimistic about the housing market, asking home price growth is easing, and the typical home sales price is slipping,” wrote Danielle Hale, chief economist at Realtor.com.

In April, the median new home sale price dropped 8.2% compared to the same month last year, falling to $420,800, according to a separate report from Realtor.com. That’s the lowest figure since December 2021.

“These point to the nudge that buyers need to act on their improving outlook.”

Hale also predicts the debt impasse will eventually come to an end: “Existing home sales will continue to muddle along, while the new homes market, which is relatively better supplied, will outperform.”

Read more: Here’s how much money the average middle-class American household makes — how do you stack up?

Buyers resigned to higher rates

Bliss Ong, an agent with real estate brokerage Redfin who works primarily in Seattle, says while some buyers are completely priced out of the market, others are just pushing their price range down.

A mortgage rate in the current range “isn’t scaring away buyers as much as it did back in the fall,” says Ong.

“The housing market is different now because buyers are used to rates in the 6% range, and some of them are even motivated to secure a loan now in case rates rise further.”

Heather Kruayai, another agent based in Jacksonville, Florida, indicates the pricier homes in her area which are actually the most popular.

She notes that buyers can cushion the impact of high rates by making big down payments or paying in cash.

“Other than cash buyers moving in from out of town, the only people buying and selling are the people who need to because they’re retiring or going through another major life change.”

Mortgage applications continue to decline

Demand for mortgages sank 4.6% from last week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA).

Refinance activity also dropped by 5% — and was 44% lower than the same week a year ago.

“Since rates have been so volatile and for-sale inventory is still scarce, we have yet to see sustained growth in purchase applications,” said Joel Kan, vice president and deputy chief economist at the MBA.

“Investors remained attuned to the uncertainty around the US debt ceiling and communication from several Federal Reserve officials last week, which sent Treasury yields higher, along with mortgage rates. Economic data released over the past week have also pointed to a still-resilient economy.”

He added there’s been positive data on residential housing construction as well, which could help bring more inventory to the housing market.

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This article provides information only and should not be construed as advice. It is provided without warranty of any kind.

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