Friday, October 26, 2018

Interest Rates Rising, But Still Relatively Low

I have discussed interest rates often as they tend to be a critical element in the real estate market. For younger buyers these higher rates may seem "high" but in reality our rates still remain well below the established 50 year average. A while back I published some charts and graphs showing the plight of rates over the last 50 years.

Today I have returned with more data from Freddie Mac and when we look at the broad picture and compare it to the recent data the rates we have right now are still super low. We had a fairly long period with rates that were at or near all time lows dating all the way back to before WWII. These super low rates were largely produced with subsidies from the federal government. The feds were buying up mortgages to keep the housing market from completely imploding after the severe beating it took in 2009-11.

The real issue is that our economy over the last 15 years has been much more fragile than previous economic cycles. Our national government continues to pile on debt and now it is beginning to become a heavy anchor on the economy. Despite seeing robust growth in the economy, the low rates are a major reason we have the growth. As rates return to "normal" the economy will start to drag again. I am not predicting a recession per se, but interest rates this low are generally not healthy for the financial sector over the long term.

As for housing, we have seen hot real estate markets with 30 year fixed rates in the 7s. The problem right now, especially in high cost markets like the Northeastern US and the West Coast is that many buyers are priced out when rates go up. In more affordable markets rates can continue to rise and buyers will still be able to buy. 

Home ownership is still one of the best ways that a middle income earner can build wealth. With rates low, that wealth builds faster. Equity is gained more quickly with lower rates than with higher rates because mortgages are amortized and the lower rates mean more principle is applied with each payment.

The media does not always present the facts in their entirety and home affordability has many variables. income, interest rates, housing prices are major players and all of them need to be accounted when determining affordability. In 1971 the median household income in the US was $10,383 average Freddie Mac mortgage rate of 7.3%, and median home price of $24,500. In 2016 the numbers looked like this: $83,143 median income, 3.75% mortgage rate, $213,700 median home price. The median home cost 2.36 times annual income in 1971 versus 2016 where it was 2.57 times annual income. Housing prices has outpaced income growth but not by the huge margins many people think. When we apply the interest rates however actual cost of ownership is lower today than it was back in 1971. Assuming zero down, the payment on the median home in 1971 at the average rate was, $168 a month against an monthly income of $865 for a principle and interest housing payment of 19.4% of gross income. 2016 median principle and interest payment of $990 against month gross income of $6,929 yields 14.3%. The median home is cheaper today than it was in 1971 because rates are low. These are national averages and generalizations, of course, but it is important to keep in mind that now is still a great time to buy a house. Someday we may look back at the last few years as the "good 'ole days".

Any rate under 6.5% is still, historically speaking, a low rate. Our government needs to stop overspending and that seems to be something that everyone agrees on yet regardless of which political party is in power, the feds can't seem to stop spending more than they take in.

Since 2010 mortgage rates have been volatile but have never gotten very high. Average Freddie Mac par rates have not been above 5% since 2010. Remember that par rates are based on top tier credit and no cash rebates from lender. Right now, Freddie has the national average rates at 4.86% but this is for a strong borrower with no rebate. Rebate is a term to describe a payment the mortgage investor pays back to the borrower used towards the closing costs. Typically rates paid by a buyer is a little higher than these published figures. So as rates have crept up all year, they are still lower than they were in 2010 and well below the established average since 1971 which is roughly 7%.

That stated, rates are sitting at around 5ish, and that is still pretty darn low. Buyers that are playing the waiting game may find themselves in a worse position next year than they are now even as prices are softening. Higher rates will erode purchasing power faster than rising prices. Higher rates also slow down the speed at which equity is gained.

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