Life Doesn't Rise or Fall With Interest Rates

The housing market can weather the effects of expected mortgage spikes.

November 2, 2014

Mortgage rates haven’t budged, remaining at historic lows throughout the year amid economic growth that has generated 2.5 million net new jobs over the past 12 months and a record high stock market. But uncertainty looms in light of Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen’s announcement that the economic stimulus program known as “quantitative easing” will halt by year’s end. Moreover, an increase in the short-term Fed funds rate is expected by the middle of 2015. The course of U.S. monetary policy, in short, will be less accommodating going forward.

In the meantime, perhaps because of geopolitical risks in the Middle East and Ukraine, or because of weaker economic conditions in Europe, a plentiful amount of money has flowed into the safe U.S. bond market, thereby holding interest rates down. Inflation has been low so far, too, rising only by 2 percent, another factor behind the low rates.

Sooner or later, though, interest rates will have to rise. From the low 4 percent rate that prevailed for most of this year, the average mortgage rate will likely cross over the 5 percent threshold sometime in 2015 and probably rise to near 6 percent by 2016. Such a change makes homes less affordable, a clear negative for residential sales. But job creation and the accompanying rise in consumer confidence, along with some loosening of  underwriting standards, might more than compensate for the rising rates.

But what will be the impact on home owners who have locked in super low rates? How resistant will they be to giving those up? That’s something we’ll be tracking. But if past behavior is a guide, most home owners won’t stay put just to hang onto a low mortgage rate.

Our own research supports this. Nearly half of recent buyers indicated the desire to have a different-sized home or live in a different neighborhood as the key reason for moving. Having kids and selecting a school district they like makes people move. Another third of recent movers cited changes in a job or ­marital status. Retirement was a factor for ­others. Only 3 percent mentioned changes in mortgage costs as a reason for moving.

Low interest-rate lock-ins seem to matter far less than life cycle events. Even as rates move up, life moves on.

Lawrence Yun
Chief Economist and Senior Vice President of Research at the National Association of REALTORS®

Lawrence Yun is chief economist and senior vice president of Research at the  National Association of REALTORS®. He directs research activity for the association and regularly provides commentary on real estate market trends for its 1.1 million REALTOR® members. Dr. Yun creates NAR's forecasts and participates in many economic forecasting panels, including Blue Chip and the Harvard University Industrial Economist Council. He appears regularly on financial news outlets and is a frequent speaker at real estate conferences throughout the United States. USA Today recently listed him among the top 10 economic forecasters in the country.

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