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November 21, 2022 – The housing market remains slow as it enters the traditional holiday season. With interest rates rising to the highest level in the last 20 years, both sales and prices had a soft month in October. While last week’s increase in mortgage applications due to the recent decline in rates is encouraging news, market sentiment – including those of builders – continues to lean more towards the side of caution.

California home sales bear brunt of higher interest rates in October: Closed escrow sales of existing, single-family detached homes in California totaled a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 274,040. October marked the 16 consecutive month of negative year-over-year growth, and it was the third time in the last four months that sales dropped more than 30%. Homes were listed on the market for a median of 23 days before escrow opened, more than doubled from that in October of last year when the median was 11 days. Inventory inched up but remained low by historical standards. Tight supply has kept prices afloat thus far, even as demand has pulled back significantly. Nevertheless, October had the slowest year-over-year price growth in the last 29 months and prices should continue to moderate in the months ahead.

Mortgage applications increase as mortgage rates tumble: Following the latest inflation data release which suggests a slowdown in overall price growth in the economy, mortgage rates decreased last week as Treasury yields dropped sharply. The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, according to Freddie Mac, averaged 6.61% as of November 17. This was down from 7.08% the week prior and was the biggest week-to-week decline in the last four decades. In response to the decline in rates, total mortgage applications recorded a weekly gain of 2.7% for the weekly ending November 11, 2022. Most of the increase in application activity was due to the seasonally adjusted increase of 4% in purchase applications from the week prior. Refinance activity, on the other hand, continued to move downward by another 2% from the previous week and was down 88% from the level observed one year ago.

House construction declines more than expected: Home builders remain reluctant to increase inventory as housing starts and permits both dropped in October. Residential starts dropped for the second straight month, with a monthly decline of 4.2%, to 1.425 million-unit pace in October. Total housing starts contracted in three of the four regions, with the West falling by 10.6%. Starts improved modestly in the South (6.7%), but the gain was due entirely to an increase in multifamily starts. Constructions in the multi-family sector have been more resilient to the effects of rising rates, as multifamily starts continued to outpace last year’s level by 17.8%, despite a dip from the prior month. With demand slowing in the purchase market, developers are shifting their building effort in the rental market in recent months and most likely in the near future.     

Builder confidence declines for 11 straight months: The index by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI) measuring builders’ sentiment towards the housing market, dropped another 5 points to 33 in November. This was the 11th consecutive decline and was the lowest builders’ confidence reached since June 2012, outside of the onset of the pandemic. The drop in builders’ sentiment was attributed primarily to elevated interest rates, persistently high building material costs, and a growing affordability challenge that continues to dry out a once overflowing pipeline of buyer traffic. Nearly 3 in 5 builders were using incentives to attract buyers into the marketplace. One quarter of them (25%), for example, said they paid points for buyers to buy-down mortgage rate. Another one-third (37%) said they cut prices in November, a surge from 26% in September.

Retail sales’ strength sustains but concern is growing: Retail sales up again in October, with goods spending and service spending both up solidly from the prior month. Nominal retail sales rose 1.3% on a month-to-month basis and increased 8.3% from the same time last year. On the surface, consumers appear to be resilient but the surge in credit card borrowing in the third quarter suggests that they are struggling to keep up the pace. Some sales recorded in October could also be holiday shopping being pulled forward, as major retailers started offering holiday promotion and discounting during the month. As such, holiday sales could slow more than expected in the upcoming months.

Weekly Data for Week Ending 2022-11-19


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