Interest Rates and Homeownership Prospects in 2015

Featured Article, Planning & Saving, Real Estate
on March 6, 2015
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Considering buying a home in 2015? You’re going to want to keep a close eye on interest rates in the coming months, as they may represent a make-or-break factor in your home-buying prospects.,

Despite recent declines in 30-year interest rates, the US Census Bureau’s Social, Economic, and Housing Statistics Division reported the nation’s homeownership level to be at 64 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014, the lowest level reported since the first quarter of 1995.

According to interest rate tracker HSH.com, 30-year fixed-rate mortgages are off their most recent high of 4.6 percent back in August 2013, down to 3.837 percent for February 2015.

Interest rates, lending standards and home equity levels directly impact the affordability of homes and thus peoples’ ability to buy a home of their own. So any increase in interest rates this year will most likely mean more prospective home buyers—especially first-timers—will be frozen out of the market as housing affordability decreases.

Plus, unless lenders loosen up the reins on qualifying for a purchase money mortgage, buyers who could otherwise afford to purchase a house will be left out in the cold as well.

In its January 2015 statement, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) commented that the recovery of the nation’s housing industry “remains slow.”

So keeping past policy intact, the Fed once again reaffirmed its view that the fed funds rate remain at the target range of zero to one-quarter percent. The statement also noted that the FOMC will continue to keep the rate in that target range while it monitors progress made towards its goal of maximum employment and 2 percent inflation.

“Interest rates are a very important variable when it comes to consumer confidence in their purchasing power,” said Rick Sharga, executive vice president of Auction.com. “While a potential rise in interest rates may push some home buyers off the fence and into the market, many more will most likely delay their purchase, even though it is currently less expensive to buy than to rent in many parts of the country.”

Based on the Fed’s rationale, housing industry analysts can do little more than estimate when and by how much the nation’s central bank may increase interest rates this year—if at all.

In his yearly economic forecast for the housing market, Lawrence Yun, chief economist of the National Association of Realtors said he expected inflationary pressure to force the Fed to raise short-term interest rates during the first half of 2015, with mortgage interest rates rising from their current level around 4 percent up to around 5 percent this year and up again in 2016 to 6 percent.

“The impact of rising interest rates on affordability will be minimal as long as job creation keeps pace,” Yun said. “Furthermore, if the credit box slowly begins to open up, that will also mitigate the impact of rising rates.”

Like Yun, many analysts are expecting that job growth this year will reduce unemployment levels, helping potential home buyers to afford a purchase—whether an existing or new home.

While addressing the International Builders Show in Las Vegas last month, Freddie Mac Chief Economist Frank Nothaft said he expects interest rates to still remain affordable despite rising throughout the year.

“We see mortgage rates going up to 4.5 percent on the high side at the end of this year, going from dirt cheap to cheap. Overall, affordability for buyers in most markets will be well maintained in the context of strong job and income growth,” Nothaft said.

Joel Cone is a southern California-based freelance business writer who specializes in the fields of real estate, economics and law. His articles have appeared both in print and online for many publications including California Real Estate, OC Metro, GlobeSt.com and The Los Angeles Daily Journal. He is also a contributor to Auction.com.

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