Mortgage applications to purchase a home dropped more dramatically than did refinances, down 10 percent from the previous week. While one week does not a trend make, rising mortgage rates, coupled with severe inventory shortages, are not the mix needed for a healthy spring housing market.
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"Many homeowners may simply be deciding to play the market and wait for their home to appreciate before putting it up for sale. Despite the drop in applications, we have seen anecdotal evidence of homes selling very quickly after entering the market," says Bob Walters, chief economist at Quicken Loans.
Days on market are shrinking across the nation, but only because supplies are so low. It's not just the former boom to bust to boom markets, like Phoenix and Las Vegas; local Realtor associations show inventories are down dramatically from a year ago in Charlotte (-29 percent), Dallas (-19 percent), Minneapolis (-32 percent), and Washington, DC (-36 percent) to name a few.
"The low and negative equity of a large number of mortgage holders has kept significant inventory off the market, and many would-be sellers with adequate equity feed into the problem by holding off until they find something to buy," says Jonathan Miller of CEO of Miller Samuel Inc. "I believe the chronic low inventory phenomenon we are seeing has little to do with lack of consumer confidence and more to do with reasonable access to mortgage financing."
President Obama echoed that sentiment in his State of the Union addressTuesday night.
"Overlapping regulations keep responsible young families from buying their first home," Mr. Obama said. Not exactly a new sentiment, as the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, has said the same thing several times, as have other federal regulators.
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Rising mortgage rates and tight credit standards keep first time-home buyers out, while falling inventories make it more difficult for existing home buyers to move up. The housing market is therefore still largely in the hands of all-cash investors, looking for distressed properties to buy and then rent out. Ironically, perhaps for now, more distressed properties coming to market will be what keeps home sales afloat.