Consumers Have Doubts Despite Strong Economy

More households are feeling the strain in their personal financial situations and losing confidence in the housing market, even as the country sees solid job growth and record gains in the stock market, according to the National Association of REALTORS®’ fourth-quarter Housing Opportunities and Market Experience (HOME) survey, based on more than 2,700 respondents.

Tight inventory and weaker affordability conditions are prompting consumers to doubt that now is a good time to buy a home, says NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. “The trifecta of faster economic expansion, robust hiring, and low mortgage rates should be generating a surge in optimism and home sales as 2017 winds down,” Yun says. “Sadly, this is not the case. While overall demand remains high, it is not translating to meaningful sales gains. Too many prospective first-time buyers see few options within their budget and home prices that are rising much faster than their incomes. Until we start seeing a steady increase in new and existing inventory, sales will fail to deliver on their full potential, and many would-be first-time buyers will be forced to continue renting.”

The share of renters who believe now is a good time to buy dropped to 60 percent in the fourth quarter, down from 62 percent in the previous quarter. Still, that’s better than 57 percent a year ago. The consumers most optimistic about buying are current homeowners, households with incomes above $100,000, and those living in traditionally more affordable regions of the Midwest and South.

The share of homeowners who say now is a good time to sell dropped from 80 percent in the third quarter to 76 percent in the fourth quarter. Again, that number is still higher than 62 percent a year ago. Households in the West continue to be the most optimistic about selling a home, but the least optimistic about buying.

“The good news for possible inventory gains heading into 2018 is the fact that a much larger share of homeowners compared to a year ago think it’s a good time to sell,” says Yun. “However, the decline in the latest quarter is worth monitoring. REALTORS® say the lack of new-home construction in their markets is giving many potential trade-up buyers hesitation about putting their home on the market out of fear they won’t find another property to buy. This indecisiveness only exacerbates tight inventory conditions and slows housing turnover.”

Consumers Not Convinced by Economic Strides

Economic confidence is waning, even though the economy has expanded more than 3 percent over the last two quarters, with strong job gains and mortgage rates that remain historically low. Fifty-two percent of respondents to NAR’s survey believe the economy is improving, compared to 57 percent in the previous quarter. According to the HOME Survey’s monthly Personal Financial Outlook Index, household confidence that their financial situation will improve in the next six months fell from a reading of 62 in September to 59.1 in December.

“The significant rise in home values and the stock market at record highs are why a majority of homeowners, as well as those with incomes above $100,000, are more optimistic about the economy than renters and those with lower incomes,” Yun says. “The overall job market and economy are very healthy. If housing supply improves enough next year to boost the nation’s homeownership rate, it’s very likely more households will feel upbeat about their future.”