After several years of rich home price gains, the market appears to have found a limit to what people can afford. Sellers are finally responding by lowering prices more often.
Approximately 14 percent of all listings in June saw a price cut, that's up from a recent low of 11.7 percent at the end of 2016, according to a new report from Zillow. In addition, home price growth is slowing in nearly half of the 35 largest U.S. metropolitan markets.
Rising mortgage rates and affordability are behind the change. As the housing market recovered from its epic crash in the last decade, home prices began to gain slowly. And then they suddenly took off in the last few years.
The simple reason was supply and demand. As millennials aged into their homebuying years, homebuilders did not and are still not meeting the rising demand. In addition, millions of single-family homes lost to foreclosure were purchased by investors and turned into single-family rentals, further depleting the for-sale housing stock. The market was thus suffering a critical shortage, just as demand was taking off. Prices had nowhere to go but up. Until now.
"The housing market has tilted sharply in favor of sellers over the past two years, but there are very early preliminary signs that the winds may be starting to shift ever-so-slightly," said Zillow senior economist Aaron Terrazas. "A rising share of on-market listings are seeing price cuts, though these price cuts are concentrated at the most expensive price-points and primarily in markets that have seen outsize price gains in recent years."
While Terrazas admits it is too soon to call this a buyer's market nationally, "the frenetic pace of the housing market over the past few years is starting to return toward a more normal trend."
And of course all real estate is local, so certain markets are tipping faster than others. In San Diego, 20 percent of all listings had a price cut in June, up from 12 percent a year ago. In Seattle, which continues to be the hottest market in the nation, 12 percent of all listings had a cut, the largest share in nearly four years.
In Austin, Texas, also a very strong housing market thanks to a recent influx of technology jobs, more homes are seeing price cuts as well.
"We saw intense bidding on homes over the past few years, but that is calming down with more inventory in the area," said B Barnett, a real estate agent at Reilly Realtors in Austin. "Our inventory of homes is going up with new construction, and it is helping transfer power back to the buyer."
Barnett, who said about 60 percent of her clients are relocating into the Austin market, is still seeing multiple offers, but there are fewer bidding wars, meaning prices are no longer out of reach. Buyers, she said, are getting negotiating power back and some are even able to get repairs in the deal. For the past few years, in most hot markets, buyers had to take what they could get — no contingencies.
There are still some markets where prices gains are increasing, but those are markets that have seen smaller price growth in the past few years. San Antonio, Phoenix, Philadelphia and Houston had fewer listings with a price cut in June compared with a year ago.
Among the largest housing markets, San Jose, CA, Indianapolis, IN and Charlotte, NC could see price growth slow the most over the next year, according to Zillow.