Despite the kerfuffle when Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said the fateful three words “about six months” in relation to interest rates in her debut speech, it’s likely going to be a good 12 months before the central bank looks to move away from the near zero interest rate policy.
That’s the opinion of a number of economists polled by the Wall Street Journal this week, and it could have an unexpected influence on housing after six-plus years of ZIRP.
The “Fed will start raising [the] key funds rate earlier rather than later,” Allen Sinai, chief global economist and strategist at Decision Economics, Inc., told the Wall Street Journal.
Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of Realtors, has likewise predicted that the Fed will likely look to move by late spring on interest rates.
How this could affect housing is in question. While generally lower rates enables more sale activity, just this week mortgage applications spiked 10% even though interest rates were rising steadily from 4.26% to 4.34%.
The Fed’s commitment to maintaining a zero-interest rate policy managed to fuel borrowing in the mortgage finance space, despite tepid housing fundamentals.
CoreLogic chief economist Mark Fleming told attendees at the National Association of Real Estate Editors in Houston on Friday that after the long period of low mortgage interest rates that ZIRP made possible, rising rates may lock some potential sellers in their homes.
“Low interest rates have locked potential sellers in their homes. Why sell now and lose your 3.5%-4% rate?” he said at NAREE Friday.
As HousingWire reported back in January, many have long though 2015 was the time the central bank would let rates rise. For the longest time, ZIRP was to be the norm as inflation remained low.
Yellen’s position and the decline in the official unemployment rate have changed that equation.
Anthony Sanders, distinguished professor of real estate finance at George Mason University, has said rising rates would also staunch the flow of cheap money to investors, whose purchase have driven housing prices in the last year outside affordability for most buyers.
“The Fed could speed up tapering and allow rates to rise (cutting off cheap funding sources to investors). As it stands, house prices are rising while affordability for the middle class is shrinking," Sander said.
Just this week, billionaire investor Sam Zell told Fox Business that he thinks it’s well past time for interest rates to naturally rise, and any short-term pain will be worth it and necessary to heal the broken foundation of the economy.
“And as far as interest rates are concerned, it is pretty easy to say they are going up when they're at zero today,” Zell said. “But it is hard for me to imagine that you are going to have a scenario like this without it having a very negative impact on our country.”