6 Things Every Home Buyer, Seller, and Owner Need to Know About Today’s Housing Market

It doesn’t matter if you’re owning or renting, buying or selling, or still sitting on the sidelines waiting to join the game. Just about everyonewants to know what’s going on in the housing market.

Because it’s a moving target. While plummeting prices can be a boon for buyers, they can throw sellers into a panic—and, in a worst-case scenario, plunge the world into a recession, as we saw when the housing bubble burst a decade ago. Meanwhile, a lack of new housing coming onto the market can lead to price spikes for both buyers and renters.

That current dearth of new construction is exacerbating a national housing shortage and leading to an increase in prices, according to the recently released annual State of the Nation’s Housing report from the Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies.

“The major takeaway is that the housing market is strong,” says Daniel McCue, senior research associate at the center. But “there’s a housing shortage brought on by several years of low levels of homebuilding. It’s led to increased competition, which has driven up home prices. And it’s led to [a lack of] housing affordability.”

Here are six key findings from the report.

1. Homeownership rate is rising again

Over the past two years, homeownership has been rising again, hitting 64.4% of U.S. households in 2018. The rate rose 0.5% from the previous year, resulting in an additional 1.6 million households who closed on properties.

That’s fantastic news. The homeownership rate had plummeted during the financial crisis as scores of foreclosures swept through the country. Now it’s back up to what it was from about 1985 through 1995, according to McCue.

“Homeownership had declined a lot,” he says. “So [for many buyers] it was finally having the money and the income to make this happen.”

The bump was primarily thanks to more millennials and young Gen Xers flooding the market. An additional 1.1 million of them closed on properties from 2016 to 2018.

“You have a bigger group of young adults getting older and reaching the ages where they are getting married, having children, and reaching the prime first-time home buyer [point],” McCue says.

The boost in homeownership was in spite of record-high home prices in many parts of the country and rising mortgage interest rates.

In 2012, the monthly median home payment was only $1,176, after adjusting for inflation, according to the report. But just six years later, it had jumped almost 51%, to $1,775 a month.

“The fact that homeownership is rising despite all of the affordability challenges that buyers are facing reflects how important homeownership is to the American dream,” says Chief Economist Danielle Hale of realtor.com®.

2. Fewer folks are renting

Simple math: If the number of homeowners is rising, it means that the number of renters is falling. The number of households renting the roofs over their heads fell by 110,000, to 43.2 million, from 2017 through 2018. That’s in stark contrast to the previous 12 years, when the number of tenants grew by nearly 850,000 households annually.

Increasing rents, going up 3.6% annually in 2018 compared with 3.8% in 2017, may have something to do with it.

“Rents are high and rising,” says Hale. But homeownership tends to be more of a fixed cost as folks know what their monthly mortgage will be. “Renters tend to pay more of their income toward housing than homeowners do.”

But here’s another shift: Renters are becoming wealthier. About a quarter of them now have household incomes of $75,000 or more. That means many are choosing not to become homeowners even though they could afford to do so.

But more middle-class renters, earning between $45,000 and $75,000 a year, are becoming cost-burdened. The percentage of these folks spending more than 30% of their income (which is considered the max folks should pay for housing) shot up from 13% in 2001 to 25% in 2018, according to McCue.