Data & VisualsHousing MarketMortgage Rates

Experts share insights about the Fed, data ‘vibes’ and housing trends

The Gathering: HousingWire’s Logan Mohtashami, Altos Research’s Mike Simonsen and Redfin’s Daryl Fairweather examined key trends across the housing ecosystem

Three of the biggest topics in housing right now are mortgage rate movements tied to Federal Reserve policymaking, the day-to-day moves in key housing data and forward-looking trends for the housing market.

This week at The Gathering by HousingWire in Scottsdale, Arizona, these topics were tackled in separate sessions by HousingWire analyst Logan Mohtashami, Altos Research founder and president Mike Simonsen, and Redfin chief economist Daryl Fairweather, respectively.

Mohtashami: Read the data

Mohtashami kicked off the sessions by talking about the differences between the current mortgage rate environment and some of what was seen in the early days of the financial crisis of the 2000s, saying that Americans generally are in a much better position than they were back then.

The Fed has recently indicated that it is not likely to reduce interest rates anytime soon due to economic indicators, and Mohtashami revived a 2022 prediction about what it will take to get the Fed to “break” on rates.

“In 2022, I brought up the premise that the Fed will not pivot until the labor market breaks,” he said. “So, if all of you are looking for a sustained lower move in mortgage rates, that’s what you’re going to see.”

While a lot of the oxygen in the discussion is taken up by inflation, Mohtashami asserts that’s not what the Fed is primarily focused on.

“What the Fed wants to see is the labor market get very soft and to the point that it’s breaking, and then they will find all the confidence in the world to do rate cuts and talk about making sure we have a soft landing,” he said.

Reading the data, he said, might tell a different story about the situation as opposed to strictly paying attention to what Fed officials are saying.

Illuminating data points include wage growth, job openings, the number of people quitting to find higher-paying work, and jobless claims on a weekly or monthly basis. These help observers to monitor changes in the labor market similarly to the Fed, he explained.

From there — and when combined with employment in construction and housing permit data — the thinking around rates will become clearer.

“If the labor market gets softer and the Fed starts getting a little bit more dovish, then not only can the spreads get better, but if the 10-year yield goes down, there’s your 6% [or] sub-6% mortgage rates,” he said. “But this means the labor market has to break. So, we’re all focusing on inflation, but not what really matters.”

Simonsen: More data, less ‘vibes’

A lot of the conversation in the housing market can be focused on “vibes,” or general feelings about the way things are going. Simonsen explained to attendees at The Gathering that focusing instead on real-time data is key to having accurate, predictive indicators about where the market is at and where it will go.

Simonsen began his presentation by talking about an early Altos interaction with both Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers. In 2007, right around the time he started Altos Research, he was attending a conference where representatives of both companies were speaking. After they finished speaking, he aimed to pitch both companies on why they might need the kind of data Altos specializes in.

He recalled his pitch.

“I’m Mike Simonsen, my company is Altos Research, and we track every home for sale in the country every week,” he recalled saying. “We check all the pricing, all the supply and demand, and all the changes in that data, and we give that to you because traditional housing data is months behind the curve before you see what’s happening.”

The Lehman representative turned him down flatly, saying, “We’ve got so much more data than you can possibly imagine. We’re making so much money. Don’t even bother,” Simonsen recalled.

The Goldman representative was more open to hearing what he had to say, and 12 weeks later engaged with Altos as a client. A year later, Lehman Brothers went out of business, Simonsen explained.

Simonsen asserted that monitoring changing data points on a daily and weekly basis — including inventory levels, new and pending home sales, and home price data and signals —can help to more efficiently track the impact of mortgage rates.

“I believe that our obligation is to communicate with the data for everybody in the cycle, from the biggest players down to every single homebuyer and seller,” Simonsen said.

He began by looking at fresh inventory data.

“The biggest takeaway from when we’re looking at the inventory numbers is rising rates constitute rising inventory — or put another way, demand slows, inventory grows,” he said. “And that’s actually counterintuitive for a lot of folks who are just casually looking at the data.

“They think, ‘Mortgage rates are higher, nobody’s going to sell, therefore inventory is going to fall when rates fall again. Then we’ll finally get some inventory.’ But the data shows that actually, the opposite is true.”

Multiple years of higher rates will be needed to return inventory to pre-pandemic levels, but inventory growth is rising across the country, particularly in states like Florida and Texas, he explained.

More home sellers are also starting to enter the market. Last year, rising rates depressed seller participation, but higher rates are starting to be seen as more of a norm. A general sense of predictability will allow more sellers to enter the market, he said.

Prices are likely to remain stable due to higher rates, he added.

“More data, less vibes,” Simonsen said.

Fairweather: Less affordability

Daryl Fairweather of Redfin primarily spoke about housing demand; generational participation in the market; the impact of climate events and natural disasters on homebuying activity; and the flexibility that renters might experience, particularly as weather events become more prominent nationwide.

“People are spending more and more of their money on housing, and housing isn’t getting any more affordable,” she said. “We still have this underlying shortage of homes.”

But the presentation was primarily designed to be forward looking, and in that respect, interest rates and inflation are elevated, but the economy is growing. Demographics are also changing, with millennials being the largest generation and Gen Z being smaller but increasingly influential in the economy.

Changing preferences and economic realities are also disrupting long-standing paradigms related to housing in the U.S., she said.

“It used to be that homeownership was the American dream, and now it’s more the American pipe dream,” Fairweather said. “People just feel like it’s a ‘pie in the sky’ thing for them to achieve because housing affordability keeps getting worse and worse.”

Climate is also a very real issue having an impact on the housing market, Fairweather said.

“For a long time I would talk about a changing climate and people would say ‘That’s a problem for the future,’” she said. “But now, we’re seeing insurance costs going up and people are deciding where to live based on the climate. It’s becoming a more and more important issue in the housing market.”

Fairweather shared that Redfin experimented in 2020 to analyze the impacts that climate change can have on homebuying behavior over a three-month period in which users were divided into two pools: one that showed them a view of flood risk and one that did not.

“In the control view, there is no flood risk, and then in the treatment view, you could see flood risk for every single home that’s on Redfin,” she said. “The people that were shown flood risk — if they were previously looking at severely or extremely risky homes for flood risk — they went on to buy homes that had half as much risk when they saw that information,” she said.

This communicates a potential value-add opportunity for mortgage professionals to offer more robust climate information, in addition to where interest rates are projected to go or demographic information.

“[That can help] inform them about how to make the best homebuying decision,” Fairweather said.

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