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Update on Coronavirus Market Impacts

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Aug. 19, 2020

There were several positive signs in the economy last week as the labor markets, consumer spending, and homebuyer demand all improved. C.A.R.’s monthly press release showed that California rebounded back to pre-crisis levels of home sales as home prices set a new all-time high last month. However, rates ticked up slightly and REALTORS® reported fewer listing appointments, fewer homes listed on the MLS, fewer transactions entering escrow, and the percentage of respondents that closed a sale last week was flat. Additionally, fewer REALTORS® expected sales, listings, or prices to rise last week compared with the week before. Thus, even as we continue to move in the right direction, the path ahead remains long and the road to recovery will be slow.

The Economy Shows Ongoing Signs of Life: After falling more than 20% between February and April, retail sales rebounded to an all-time high last month. That puts overall spending back above pre-crisis levels and ahead of 2019’s retail sales by 2.7%. The labor markets continue to improve as the economy added back nearly 1.8 million jobs, the unemployment rate fell to 10.2%, and the number of new claims for unemployment insurance dipped below 1 million for the first time since the crisis began.

California Housing Surges Again in July: Aside from June, July was the best monthly gain for closed transactions in California in recorded history. Sales of existing single-family homes rose 28.8% from June and were more than 6% ahead of 2019’s pace. California’s unsold inventory index fell to just 2.1 months of supply, which lead to a decrease in time on market to 17 days. As a result, the median home price in California reached a new all-time high of over $666,000 last month.

Housing Demand Accelerating into Fall: Weekly mortgage applications continue to surge ahead of 2019 levels, reaching 27% growth on a year to year basis last week. In addition, requests for private showing in California via showingtime.com have more than doubled compared to either pre-crisis levels or to buyer demand in 2019. Both low rates and the importance of home have pushed more still-employed Californians to seek homeownership or to upgrade their current home.

Lots of Healing Remains Ahead of Us: The July labor market data and the weekly data on new unemployment claims show ongoing improvement. However, the road to full recovery will be long and slow as nearly 3 million workers remain on unemployment in California. Furthermore, consumer sentiment fell for the second consecutive month in August, and the National Federation for Independent Business’ (NFIB) also reported that its Small Business Optimism Index declined in July.

The Immediate Boost of Lower Rates May Subside: Freddie Mac’s average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage increased to 2.96% last week but remains at historic lows. However, the lack of available supply combined with robust demand are pushing up home prices rapidly and reduce some of the benefit of low rates. July was the first month since April 2019 where rising prices completely canceled out the benefits lower rates.

Weekly Data Shows Inventory Limiting Market Rebound: Despite robust demand from buyers and historically low interest rates, new listings reached their lowest level in six weeks falling nearly 7% statewide last week. As a result, pending sales were flat after 3 weeks of decline. Closed sales also declined for the second week in a row, with an average of 799 closed sales per day—down by roughly 5% from the week before in all markets except the Central Coast.

C.A.R. is likely to upgrade its initial COVID-19 forecast in the coming weeks because the housing market is expected to remain a bright spot in the economy at large. However, the Association also expects the recovery in labor markets and the macro environment to recover slowly, which will eventually affect momentum in housing.

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