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Here are the Zillow predictions for 2020 (higher sales and prices):

With the housing market stabilizing from the drama of the early years of home price recovery and the subsequent slowdown during 2019’s home shopping season, we have a rare moment of calm to reflect on what housing might look like in the year to come.

If current trends hold, then slower means healthier and smaller means more affordable. Yes, we expect a slower market than we’ve become accustomed to the last few years. But don’t mistake this for a buyer-friendly environment – consumers will continue to absorb available inventory and the market will remain competitive in much of the country.

But while the national story is a confident one, housing in some manufacturing-heavy markets may see adversity. The struggle could be even more stark, since similarly affordable housing markets with a more balanced job profile may be 2020’s rising stars.

There are several 50,000-foot reasons why we expect this gentle downsizing to continue:

  • Many of today’s younger, millennial home buyers have expressed a preference for denser, more urban homes that are more walkable to shared amenities.
  • Younger buyers are struggling to afford large homes built in prior decades
  • Eco-consciousness is also growing broadly.
  • Today’s older homeowners are expressing a desire for smaller, less maintenance-heavy and more accessible (read: fewer stairs) homes as they age and move into newer homes. In 2019, 56% of new construction home buyers were 40 or older, according to the 2019 Zillow Group Consumer Housing Trends Report.
  • Home builders are constrained by a shortage of buildable land in desirable areas. Prices on key building materials including lumber and steel are increasingly volatile. And competition for skilled construction labor is fierce, pushing wages up.

Each of these trends points to a continuation of this downsizing of new homes – smaller homes are inherently more dense, walkable and affordable; smaller homes are efficient and eco-friendly; smaller homes require less maintenance and are more accessible; smaller homes enable builders to do more with less.

There will always be demand for large, suburban homes on big lots – but on net, we expect attitudes to shift away from that and toward a lifestyle with a smaller footprint.

Mortgage Rates Will Stay Low, Keeping Housing Demand High

Mortgage rates fell markedly in 2019, and are expected to remain near their current, relatively low levels for the bulk of 2020. Softening GDP growth and investment, continued global weakness due in part to the U.S.-China trade conflict, and below-target inflation will continue to hold rates in check. Barring marked improvements in these indicators, the Fed will have no reason to return to rate hikes.

If low mortgage rates persist, this will keep home purchase demand strong and continue to fuel decent price growth in the nation’s most broadly affordable markets. But low rates won’t be enough to reignite high growth rates in the nation’s highest-priced markets, notably on the West Coast and in the Northeast. In these markets, buyers seem to have hit an affordability ceiling where even low rates can’t bring many homes into the typical first-time buyer’s budget range, especially because low rates don’t help overcome the upfront hurdle of high down payment requirements. In those high-priced markets, buyers will continue to fan out in search of more affordable areas.

Looking ahead at 2020, we think home sales will continue to climb, but slowly. Why?

  • Although a small fraction of overall sales, new homes sales grew significantly in 2019. That has helped buoy builder confidence and lead to some of the most robust permit and starts numbers in a long time.
    • If builders in 2020 deliver on their promises to build smaller and at more affordable price points, new construction will continue to be attractive to buyers unable to find a match in the competitive and limited existing home market.
  • Yes, inventory is tight – but when we say that, we’re really talking about the number of homes available to buy relative to demand from buyers. Sales can remain strong while inventory remains tight – and a sudden jump in the number of sales will result in a corresponding drop in inventory.
  • What really matters is the flow of homes onto the market – the turnover or velocity of home sales, not months’ supply or overall level of available inventory, that constrains home sales numbers.
  • And we have reason to believe that turnover among a given segment of homeowners will be made more possible now in a way that it wasn’t before. iBuyer business models, like Zillow Offers, are ultimately about lowering sellers’ transaction costs. Economics 101 says that lowering transaction costs and making transactions themselves easier will mean those transactions will happen more often.

 

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