Are Home Prices in Peril? FAU Expert Says Coronavirus Stimulus May Hold the Key
Ken H. Johnson, Ph.D.
Florida Atlantic University
BOCA RATON, Fla. (March 30, 2020) -- The United States housing market faces its biggest threat in more than a decade, and whether home prices can withstand the new coronavirus pandemic largely depends on an effective stimulus package, said Ken H. Johnson, Ph.D., a real estate economist in Florida Atlantic University’s College of Business.
U.S. President Donald Trump recently signed a historic $2 trillion stimulus to boost a battered U.S. economy, and getting the aid exactly right is the key to avoiding the first sustained setback to home prices since the end of the housing boom in 2006, according to Johnson.
“If the stimulus package ends up being more than we need, this will almost certainly trigger a non-trivial amount of inflation in the economy, which will increase mortgage rates, which, in turn, will place downward pressure on housing prices,” Johnson said. “If the stimulus is not sufficient enough to hold down unemployment and it increases the likelihood of mortgage default, mortgage rates will rise and put downward pressure on housing prices. Only if the stimulus is just right will increasing inflation and higher unemployment be held in check.”
Fixed rates for 30-year mortgages rose from 3.29 percent on March 5 to 3.65 percent on March 19, before moving down to 3.5 percent last week as the stimulus gained momentum. The higher rates are an indication that investors are factoring in inflation and the higher likelihood of default, though the recent downward trend suggests that it was the threat of rising default probabilities that was having the bigger impact on mortgage rates, according to Johnson.
Since bottoming in March 2012, U.S. home prices rose 61 percent over the next seven and a half years, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller 20-City Composite Home Price Index. The nation’s housing market rebounded from a devastating downturn when investors started renovating and reselling properties after buying them at deep discounts.
The market has been robust ever since, but Zillow Group recently suspended its home-buying program as a result of the pandemic and how it may affect the housing market. The move means Zillow is worried that housing prices are at risk, according to Johnson.
If mortgage rates were to climb from 3.5 percent to 5 percent, it would result in a 43 percent increase in the interest portion of a housing payment, dramatically reducing the purchasing power for consumers.
“Only time will tell here,” Johnson said. “We are in uncharted waters, making it difficult to tell when and if we got the stimulus package right.”
- FAU -
About Florida Atlantic University:
Florida Atlantic University, established in 1961, officially opened its doors in 1964 as the fifth public university in Florida. Today, the University, with an annual economic impact of $6.3 billion, serves more than 30,000 undergraduate and graduate students at sites throughout its six-county service region in southeast Florida. FAU’s world-class teaching and research faculty serves students through 10 colleges: the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters, the College of Business, the College for Design and Social Inquiry, the College of Education, the College of Engineering and Computer Science, the Graduate College, the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College, the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing and the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science. FAU is ranked as a High Research Activity institution by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The University is placing special focus on the rapid development of critical areas that form the basis of its strategic plan: Healthy aging, biotech, coastal and marine issues, neuroscience, regenerative medicine, informatics, lifespan and the environment. These areas provide opportunities for faculty and students to build upon FAU’s existing strengths in research and scholarship. For more information, visit fau.edu.