Who doesn’t chuckle a bit when they hear of another real estate industry survey suggesting that “it’s now a good time to buy a home”?
But the 2013 edition of the biannual National Association of Realtors’ National Housing Pulse Survey does include some nuggets that help explain why the nation’s housing market is on the mend, if not on a roll.
Let’s remember that buying a home isn’t for everybody. You need some decent household fundamentals, most of them financial, to even consider such a purchase. So even a modest upswing in psyche – or dip in pessimism – can translate to more homes being bought.
No matter the cycle, the key overall driver to housing is rather simple. Forget all the commentary about inventory imbalances or where mortgage rates are going or the latest design trends for new homes. Bottom line: More jobs make for more happy Americans. And happier people buy homes.
For example, the Housing Pulse survey of 2,000 adults in 25 major U.S. metro areas in late spring found 48 percent of those polled see layoffs and unemployment as a big problem. That’s not party city, for sure – but it is down from 61 percent in 2011. And, I’ll add a fact from another data set: The national unemployment rate is now at a five-year low.
A housing skeptic might note this survey found little to cheer about in the infamous “right or wrong direction” question in the poll: 58 percent said the nation is moving in the “wrong direction” vs. 57 percent two years earlier. Clearly, a majority still is worrying about the big picture.
But I bet – no, I hope – that most folks can separate their broad societal views from the basic needs of what’s the best way to put a roof over a head. (Or, perhaps, homebuyers are largely Democrats: The survey found 84 percent of Republicans said “wrong” track this year vs. 36 percent of Democrats.)
When you actually look into the survey’s real estate questions, you see a recurring theme: shrinking fear. For example, we all know the one thing that spooks house shoppers – and what all owners surely felt in the market collapse – is the pain of falling home prices.
This survey found 58 percent of people polled in 2013 worry about price drops. That’s down a chunk from 70 percent in 2011. And, yes, 25 percent of house shoppers polled are concerned their house value would decline after they bought this year. Again, down from 36 percent two years ago.
The survey clearly confirms this business-cycle recovery, in both housing and the broad economy, hasn’t uplifted all spirits – or all wallets.
The housing advance is partially powered merely by shrinking anxieties – and modest enthusiasm for housing could soothe the nerves of folks who fret the current rebound actually might be an unsustainable bubble.
It’s far more productive to hyperventilate about any looming housing crash when nearly everyone – not just 68 percent – thinks it’s a good time to buy.