The recent slowdown in the housing market has been a boon for buyers. Since last summer, more properties have come onto the market; mortgage interest rates have dropped; and the rate of home price appreciation, once in the double digits, is waning. But that still doesn’t help the many would-be buyers on a tight budget.
Affordability is still the biggest hurdle to homeownership, with nearly half of aspiring buyers looking for residences costing $200,000 or less, according to a recent realtor.com® survey. That may be wishful thinking—the national median home price was about a third more, at $295,000 as of March 1. And home prices are still up 7% year over year.
“The Spring home buying season is an improvement over last year from an inventory perspective nationwide, but would-be buyers still face challenges,” Chief Economist Danielle Hale of realtor.com said in a statement. “This year, shoppers are going to be grappling with their budgets, rather than competition from a horde of other buyers.”
Unfortunately, the lower end of the market is also the tightest. The number of homes at or below $200,000 actually declined 7% from this time last year. Ouch. Nationally, inventory is up 6% overall, with the high-end segment ($750,000 and up) seeing the largest surge of homes going up for sale, with an 11% annual increase.
But the decline in entry-level houses for sale could explain why the largest group of buyers surveyed has been scouring the market for seven months or more. An additional 26% have been looking for four to six months, while 34% have been searching for only three months or less.
And the balance of power clearly has shifted away from sellers. With more homes to choose from, just 17% of home shoppers plan to submit offers over the asking price. That’s down from 26% last year.
Plus, mortgage rates have fallen to just 4.28% on 30-year fixed-rate loans from 4.45% a year ago. This means buyers get a break with lower monthly mortgage interest payments.
“More homes on the market and lower mortgage rates will help offset some difficulties associated with price gains, but affordability will remain the primary challenge for shoppers, particularly in lower price segments,” Hale said.