Housing Market Forecasts: Here's What the Experts Say


NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Economists and housing experts are predicting a lackluster real estate market over the next several years, a new survey says.

According to Zillow's Home Price Expectations Survey, which polled 104 experts, rising mortgage rates is expected to slow the housing market. The panelists polled expect 30-year fixed mortgage rates to reach 5.3% in two years. Last week, Freddie Mac said such rates average 4.12%, compared to 4.40% at this time last year. Some 62% said higher rates would have a "somewhat negative" or "significantly negative" impact on the volume of homes purchased.

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Mortgage rates are expected to rise largely on the heels of two factors relating to the Federal Reserve. First, the central bank's bond stimulus, known as quantitative easing, which has kept interest rates low in order to spur economic investment, will end in October. That's expected to cause rates on the 10-year Treasury bond to rise, as investors flock towards bonds, since the end of quantitative easing isn't expected to bode well for stocks. Bond prices and yields move in opposite directions. The 10-year Treasury is the benchmark rate that determines mortgage and auto rates.

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Secondly, the fed funds rate, which banks use to lend to each other, is expected to rise at some point next year, after remaining near zero since December 2008. Higher costs for banks are expected to eventually make its way to the consumer.

As for prices, economists in the survey said home prices are expected to end 2014 up 4.6%, but won't eclipse their 2007 high until the end of 2017. Some 85% of the panel predicts the median age of a first-time homebuyer to rise to 32 or higher over the next ten years. According to the National Association of Realtors, the median age stood at 31 last year.

Millennials could prove to be the boost the housing market needs. But it remains unclear when that jolt is expected to reach the market, as millennials are still grappling with high unemployment and burdensome student loans, causing them to live with their parents.

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"Because of its huge size and great diversity of housing preferences and opinions, the Millennial generation will have enormous influence in coming years, especially as they hold off on getting married and having children, the two biggest reasons for first-time home purchases," said Zillow chief economist Stan Humphries.

The study also sheds light on the homeownership rate, which 57% of the experts polled said would be lower in five years, compared to the rate during the time the survey was conducted, which was 64.8% for first quarter of 2014, according to the Census Bureau.

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While fewer people buying homes won't act as a boon to the housing market, home prices have started to settle a bit lower as of late, which could attract new buyers. Earlier this month, the National Association of Realtors said median existing single-family home prices increased in 71% of the markets the organization keeps track of during the second quarter of 2014, compared to 74% during the first quarter.

"At this slower but healthier rate, homeowners can continue steadily building equity," said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors. "Meanwhile, for buyers, increased supply with moderate price gains is giving them better opportunities to choose."

- Written by Scott Gamm for MainStreet. Gamm is author of MORE MONEY, PLEASE

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