The housing slowdown that has given hope to price-squeezed buyers, struck fear into the hearts of sellers, and captivated real estate aficionados from coast to coast appears to have taken a break. Home list prices aren’t coming down, it seems—instead they reached a new all-time high as the busy spring market begins.
Median list prices crossed the $300,000 mark for the first time in March, according to a recent realtor.com® report. And while annual price growth had been slowing and is even down in a few parts of the country, nationally list prices shot up 7.2% year over year in March.
That’s significantly more than inflation, which was just 1.5% in February.
“Prices are continuing to rise and they’re going to get higher,” says Danielle Hale, chief economist of realtor.com. “The same property today that’s for sale is more expensive, and we’re seeing more higher-end homes for sale.”
So why are prices rising if the real estate market is supposed to be softening?
“In a slowing market, it’s not uncommon to have a gap between list prices and sale prices. It can take sellers a little bit of time to catch up to the reality,” Hale says.
The softening in the market began over the summer, when wild price acceleration of the past several years began slowing down. That was due to a rise in inventory as more sellers trying to capitalize on high prices rushed to list their properties—at the same time that many buyers took a pause when prices and mortgage rates simply got too high. The result? There were price cuts in some of the most expensive markets, and prices didn’t climb quite as high as they did in previous years.
Overall, there was a 4% bump in the number of homes for sale in March. That should be a boon for buyers as the greater the supply, the more prices typically fall. But hold on, optimists: The number of affordable homes priced at $200,000 and below was down 9% annually. That’s making it harder for first-time and other cash-strapped buyers to become homeowners.
The increase in housing inventory came primarily from the luxury market. There was an 11% yearly rise in the number of $750,000-and-up residences going on the market in March.
One bright spot for the nonmillionaire crowd is that mortgage rates fell to just 4.06% last week on 30-year, fixed-rate loans—giving buyers some much-needed financial relief. That’s the lowest they’ve been since January of last year. It’s also well under the nearly 5% mark they were hovering around in November.
Just a single percentage point increase can add about $100 (or more) to a monthly mortgage bill on a $300,000 home. That adds up over time to thousands (if not tens of thousands) of dollars over the life of a 30-year loan.
Where prices are rising and falling the most
So where are prices going down, rather than up? In the nation’s most expensive market—Silicon Valley’s San Jose, CA, metropolitan area—prices plummeted 12% in March compared with the previous year. But don’t get too excited—homes still cost a median $1.1 million as of March 1, according to realtor.com data.
(The report included only the 50 largest metros, which include the main city and the surrounding suburbs and urban areas.)
“It’s a reflection of the huge influx of homes sitting on the market [in that area],” says Hale. The San Jose–area listings were up 114% in March over the previous year. “There’s more choices for buyers and more competition among sellers.”
On the other end of the spectrum, Milwaukee saw the biggest jump as median home prices were up 16% year over year in March. That’s likely due to the shortage of properties for sale as listings were down 8% annually. Median prices were $270,000 as of March 1.
“There has been this chronic shortage of homes on the market,” says Milwaukee-based real estate broker Betsy Head of Milwaukee Executive Realty. “People are finally getting to the point where they’ve tried to buy a home a few times and they may have failed because they wanted to negotiate on price. They are figuring out … they have to go in close to asking prices—or over it.”
But the median home price in the Milwaukee area is still reasonable compared with many other parts of the county.
Milwaukee was followed by Rochester, NY, near the Canadian border, at 14%. Memphis; Kansas City, MO; Indianapolis; and Birmingham, AL, all experienced 13% rises. The other metros seeing double-digit rises were Seattle, at 11%, and Tucson, AZ, at 10%.
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