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Residential real estate activity picks up despite low inventory

Fed Beige Book shows demand from buyers has held up in most areas while homeowners remain resistant to listing their homes

All 12 Federal Reserve districts have seen issues with a lack of housing inventory, which is largely due to existing homeowners holding back on listing their homes after previously locking in low mortgage rates

Demand from the buyer side has remained steady or increased, however, and new home builders have responded to inventory shortages by increasing speculative inventory production, according to the Federal Reserve Beige Book, released Wednesday. 

The Beige Book is a compilation of data and interviews with bank and branch directors, community organizations and economists from on or before May 22.

“Residential real estate activity picked up in most Districts despite continued low inventories of homes for sale,” the report states. 

The Beige Book also notes that “home prices and rents rose slightly on balance in most Districts, after little growth in the prior period.”

In return, the lack of inventory of homes for sale pushed demand for rental properties in some areas — including New York, Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City Federal Reserve districts.

Following are excerpts of statements on housing conditions from each of the 12 Federal Reserve districts. 

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Boston – Contacts around the District attribute the still-low sales numbers to low inventories more than to weak demand, as slightly lower mortgage rates have helped bring more buyers to the market.

House price appreciation has slowed on average but remains slightly positive, with the exception that home prices in Massachusetts (not including Boston) have experienced modest declines from a year earlier. The modest price growth in the Boston area marks a trend reversal from the preceding few months. 

Contacts anticipate that, despite healthy buyer demand, home sales are likely to experience only a modest seasonal increase moving forward, owing to extremely low inventory levels.

New York – The residential sales market has been strong across the District. A New York City-area contact reports that the sales market in and around New York City has picked up strongly in recent weeks after a brief pause in early April, which was due to uncertainty in the banking sector.

After a slow start to the year, housing markets in upstate New York have also started to pick up, with bidding wars and multiple offers becoming more common. Inventory remains exceptionally low and is restraining sales activity in much of the District. A key factor suppressing new listings is the prevalence of homeowners with historically low interest rates on their existing mortgages, reducing the incentive to sell and move.

A strong economy and relatively high mortgage rates have pushed some movers to the rental market, boosting demand.

Philadelphia –  High interest rates have continued to dissuade existing homeowners from listing their house and losing their low interest rate. Existing home sales have fallen moderately in this district, and prices have continued to rise as the market heats up again. New home builders have benefited from the unseasonably modest sales of existing homes as the resale market has slowed. 

Cleveland – Demand for residential construction and real estate has stabilized in this District, and contacts attribute this stabilization to the arrival of spring and flattening interest rates.

Homebuilders have reported an increase in speculative construction projects in this District, as many buyers want to purchase and move into homes immediately, in part to avoid further rises in interest rates.

Richmond – Residential real estate respondents indicate in the report that the spring market is off to a good start, with sales prices continuing to appreciate, but not at the same pace as last year. For-sale inventory remains constrained due to fewer people putting their homes on the market, but buyer traffic has been steady while the days on market has increased slightly in the last month. 

However, fluctuations in mortgage rates have caused buyers to pull back, with pending sales and closed sales both down in this District. Builders have been offering strong incentives to close deals. 

Atlanta – Housing demand throughout the District has remained strong despite interest rate and home price volatility. Though home sales are down compared to a year ago, sales in many markets in this District have increased on a monthly basis, as buyer sentiment has modestly improved. 

The supply of existing homes for sale has remained low as homeowners have showed increased hesitancy to list homes for sale, especially if they financed at a low interest rate. Home prices remain down from peak levels but have recently shown month-to-month improvement.

New home builders have responded to inventory shortages by increasing speculative inventory production, and some have begun to reduce buyer incentives.

Chicago – Residential construction activity has been down modestly in this District. Contacts report that high-interest rates have led some projects to be postponed or canceled and that while construction costs had fallen, the decline isn’t enough to offset higher financing costs. 

Residential real estate activity has decreased modestly as well. Prices and rents have declined, and the low inventory of homes for sale has helped to prevent larger declines.

However, there have been reports of rising retail rents in some areas because of a lack of high-quality new construction.

St. Louis – Rental rates for residential real estate have increased slightly in this District. The number of new listings in residential real estate have dropped sharply in Louisville since our previous report, while new listings in the Memphis and Little Rock regions have remained unchanged. Seasonally adjusted home sales have remained unchanged since the previous report. 

Minneapolis – Residential construction has remained subdued. Single-family permitting in April was more than 40 percent lower year over year in the Minneapolis-St. Paul region; most other large markets in the District saw even bigger declines. Discounts have started to appear for some speculative developments.

Closed (residential real estate) sales in April fell notably year over year across the District, with many larger markets seeing declines of 30 to 50 percent. Median sale prices have declined in western and central Montana and have been flat in several other markets. 

Kansas City – Housing rental rate growth has remained elevated in several western District states, but the pace of increases has declined broadly and swiftly from the growth rate experienced during the past year. 

Dallas – Housing demand broadly has held up in the Dallas District, though sales have continued to be weaker than a year ago. Contacts have noted a decent spring selling season, with prices largely stable, and builders have been able to raise prices slightly in selected areas.

Outlooks have been cautious, however, with some voicing concern about whether demand would hold up beyond the spring selling season.

San Francisco – Activity in residential real estate has slowed further in this District. Contacts across the District have reported stable demand for single-family homes, although high mortgage rates have restrained prices. Existing single-family inventory has been low, and owners appeared hesitant to forego their existing low-rate mortgages by listing their homes.

Despite reported improvement in the availability and cost of materials, construction of new homes has been flat-to-down as developers responded to higher financing costs.

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