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Home prices in January rose at the slowest pace in nearly seven years, but buyers shouldn't feel too confident just yet. Prices might be on the verge of picking up yet again.
Home values in January were 4.4 percent higher than a year earlier, smaller than the 4.7 percent annual gain in December, according to CoreLogic. Price gains have been shrinking since April, when they peaked at a 6.6 percent gain. January's read was the smallest gain since August 2012.
"The spike in mortgage interest rates last fall chilled buyer activity and led to a slowdown in home sales and price growth," said Frank Nothaft, chief economist for CoreLogic. "Fixed-rate mortgage rates have dropped 0.6 percentage points since November 2018 and today are lower than they were a year ago. With interest rates at this level, we expect a solid homebuying season this spring."
The average rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage rose above 5 percent at the start of November but then began sliding. It now sits around 4.5 percent, right around where it was a year ago, when price gains were in the 6 percent range annually.
So that could mean the end of the current price chill, as more buyers this spring compete for a still-slim supply of listings for sale. Inventories have started to rise nationwide, but mostly on the higher end of the market, which is not where the bulk of current demand is. The supply of entry-level homes for sale is still very, very low, as builders continue to focus on more expensive homes, given today's high costs for land and labor.
Last spring, bidding wars were the rule, not the exception, but homes began sitting longer over the summer. In California, where home prices surged highest, sales stalled in the fall to the slowest pace in over a decade. Higher interest rates were the tipping point for buyers. Interest rates are not as low as they were following the recession, but they have pulled back enough to entice buyers again.
"As we head into 2019, we can expect continued strong employment growth and rising incomes which could support a reacceleration in home-price appreciation later this year," said Frank Martell, president and CEO of CoreLogic.