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Homebuyers still shopping despite coronavirus-fueled pessimism

Despite numerous challenges, buyers are still house hunting and lenders are still originating purchase loans

If recent polls are any indication, the coronavirus pandemic has pushed consumer confidence into a free-fall.

Consider these examples: The Fannie Mae Home Purchase Sentiment Index fell 11.7 points to 80.8 in March, its lowest reading since December 2016. The University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment index fell from 101 in February to 89.1 in March to 71 in April – the latter decline marked its most severe plunge in 11 years. The Conference Board’s consumer confidence index tumbled from 132.6 in February to 120 in March, its greatest decline since 2011.

And early indications suggest this lack of confidence has seeped into housing. On April 16, the National Association of Realtors released a poll that found 90% of member respondents citing decreased homebuyer interest at this time, with 44% reporting buyer interest fell off by more than 50% in their market.

“If you see our latest weekly mortgage application survey, we’ve had four weeks of declines year-over-year,” said Joel Kan, Mortgage Bankers Association’s associate vice president of economic and industry forecasting. “And we’re down 35% on purchase activities. That’s a pretty telling sign of what to expect for the next few months in the housing market.”

To be certain, the statistical picture of today’s economic environment is grim. But will this new wave of consumer pessimism damage the housing market for the remainder of 2020? Some housing industry experts question doom-and-gloom forecasts, pointing to ongoing activity in the mortgage space.

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