A Tale of Two Markets: Dream Homes and Looming Evictions

September 8, 2020

A divide is growing between the haves and have-nots in real estate. While the housing market sees a frenzied number of home shoppers eager to purchase and move into a larger home, the other side of the market is facing job losses and fears of losing their current home.

The unemployment rate was 8.4% in August. Many Americans are still struggling to buy a home or afford rent. Another 10 million jobs are needed to get the economy back to pre-pandemic conditions, says Lawrence Yun, chief economist of the National Association of REALTORS®.

A recent Census survey shows that 42% of renter households earning less than $35,000 per year have slight or no confidence in their ability to pay September rent.

“The level of economic suffering for families is heartbreaking if we don’t figure out how to help unemployed Americans pay rent,” Sam Gilman, co-founder of the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project, told USA Today. “Eviction leads to horrible consequences for families. It can lead to homelessness, kids not going to school, and is linked to deaths of despair.”

Up to 40 million Americans could possibly be at risk of eviction by the end of the year, Gilman estimates. Eviction and foreclosure moratoriums that stretch to the end of the year may be postponing the inevitable, housing analysts say. “We are only delaying this huge build-up in rental debt and the precursor to eviction,” Gilman told USA Today. “Once rent comes due after the holidays, the circumstances for millions of Americans likely will not have changed.”

Under the eviction moratorium that went into effect Friday, a tenant has to testify or certify under penalty of perjury that they’re doing everything they can to pay. Obstacles may include job or wage loss, or medical expenses (not necessarily COVID-19 related) that preclude them from paying their rent.

But as millions of renters fear losing their homes, the housing market also shows the opposite end of the spectrum as buyers with secure paying jobs flood the market. The housing market has emerged as one of the drivers of the economic recovery. A vibrant housing market has added 27,700 construction workers and trade specialists. Further, the NAR’s membership is at a record high, Yun says.

Buyers with high-paying jobs are rushing to take advantage of record-low mortgage rates and possibly even purchase larger homes during the pandemic.

“There’s a fortunate group of Americans with a steady paycheck that didn’t go on a big vacation, but did end up buying new furniture, appliances, or are renovating,” Ted Rossman, industry analyst at Bankrate, told USA Today. About 59% of homeowners have completed at least $500 of home upgrades during the pandemic or are planning to before the end of the year, according to a survey from Bankrate.

But some are choosing not to spruce up but instead buy a new home. Home prices are escalating during the pandemic as buyer demand surges. The median national price for an existing home in July was $304,100, the first time ever surpassing $300,000, according to NAR.

“There’s still a lot of interest in sellers getting top dollar for their homes and buyers getting more space,” Rossman told USA Today. “The work-from-home trend has legs even beyond the pandemic because many companies have found that workers can be productive from home and it saves them money on office space. That has big ripple effects for the housing market if work-from-home becomes more permanent.”