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What a difference a few seasons make.
Housing sentiment fell to its lowest level in a year in October, according to a monthly survey by Fannie Mae. Consumer attitudes toward both buying and selling homes dropped, with the former falling the most of all the six survey components — a sizable 5 percentage points. That tied the survey's second lowest reading in its history.
The data are a sharp turnaround from last spring, when confidence in the U.S. housing market was soaring, mortgage rates were relatively low and the economy was flying high.
Fewer consumers now expect home prices to rise, echoing other surveys that have shown a drop in the number of people who think owning a home is currently a good investment. Home prices are still gaining, but those increases have been shrinking each month: They've fallen below 6 percent annually for the first time in a year, according to the much-watched S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller home price index.
Housing sentiment has been falling for the past several months, despite the fact that more consumers think the economy is on the right track. That component of the survey reached a new high.
"The contrast between the survey's findings of weak homebuying sentiment and overall economic optimism mirrors what we're seeing in the broader economy," said Doug Duncan, senior vice president and chief economist at Fannie Mae. "While economic growth posted the fastest back-to-back pace in four years in the third quarter, residential investment declined for the third consecutive quarter, a first for the current expansion."
Fewer people now believe mortgage rates will fall back to recent lows. In fact, rates have continued to rise over the last week, putting pressure on mortgage application volume.
Last week it fell to the lowest level in four years, as rates hit an eight-year high. Not only are potential buyers faced with weakening affordability, but there are still very few entry-level homes for sale. While supplies are finally rising for the first time in more than a year, they are coming off near-record lows, so there is still not a lot to choose from.
Adding insult to the supply injury, as mortgage rates rise, fewer homeowners may want to list their properties for sale.
"Who wants to give up a mortgage with a 3 handle on it?," said Peter Boockvar, chief investment officer at Bleakley Advisory Group, as he referenced interest rates at or near 3 percent.