Despite a slight pickup in home sales over the summer, Americans are feeling less optimistic about the nation's housing recovery. The overall labor market, along with personal income growth, or lack thereof, are the key drivers of this increasing bearishness. The share of consumers who think now is a good time to buy a home fell for the second consecutive month, according to a monthly survey by mortgage giant Fannie Mae.
Just 64 percent of those surveyed think now is a good time to buy, which ties the all-time survey low.
"The August National Housing Survey results lend support to our forecast that 2015 will likely not be a breakout year for housing," said Doug Duncan, senior vice president and chief economist at Fannie Mae. "The deterioration in consumer attitudes about the current home buying environment reflects a shift away from record home purchase affordability without enough momentum in consumer personal financial sentiment to compensate for it."
While employment has certainly improved in 2014, it has not improved enough; the August jobs report from the U.S. Department of Labor fell well below expectations. Some have written the month off as an outlier, while others are concerned it is a signal of slower improvements through the back half of the year.
Potential home sellers are also less optimistic, as the significant home price gains through 2013 have now eased significantly. Just 38 percent of those surveyed by Fannie Mae think now is a good time to sell a home, down from July's survey. A strange disconnect is that this weaker sentiment comes as mortgage interest rates hover at the lowest levels in over a year, and fewer people think those rates will rise in the near future. Mortgage applications to purchase a home fell again last week and are now nearly 12 percent below where they were a year ago, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.
The trouble is not affordability. In fact, after weakening for over a year, housing affordability actually flattened in the second quarter of this year, according to analysts at Deutsche Bank. The rent vs. buy comparison is finally swinging in favor of buying again.
"The drivers of the flattening have been continued rent growth, a slowdown in home price growth and some easing in rates," noted the Deutsche Bank analysts.
The biggest concern is a potential spike in mortgage rates, but so far those fears have yet to materialize.