Why housing prices aren't rising too fast

Renewed demand amid constrained supply is driving the market, but low interest rates give potential homeowners more buying power.

By Jason Notte Apr 10, 2013 9:08AM
Exterior of home with for sale signWhen we last checked in on housing prices, the median price of an existing home had risen by 11.6% in February from last year to $173,000, while the median price of a new home had jumped by 3% to $246,800.

Are housing prices rising too fast?

Not really. While Americans were told throughout the housing crisis that a glut of homes on the market would keep things cheap for a long time, the number of existing homes available now has shrunk to a 4.7-month supply and new homes to a 4.4-month supply. The ideal balance between supply and demand is a six-month stockpile, so the market is now looking at a slight housing shortage.

As Nick Timaros at The Wall Street Journal suggests, that shortage comes at the same time mortgage rates are hovering near a record low of 3.5%. Even with tightened credit restrictions, this gives buyers nearly a third more purchasing power than they had just five years ago, when rates were closer to 6%.

That's great for investors, who make up 22% of the homebuying market and are converting homes into rentals at a quickening pace.

A supply of homes that's near a 20-year low isn't exactly great for the housing market in general, though. While it's squeezing prices higher, it's also indicating that folks who'd generally sell their homes around this time may still be carrying mortgages more than their homes are worth. And even if banks are helping them out with short sales, homeowners may be worried that they won't get enough for a down payment on a new house.

No matter if they have enough cash -- the house of their dreams may not be on the market long enough for them to comfortably make a move. Homes that took nearly 100 days to sell a year ago are now selling in less than 75 days.

Building a new home is still somewhat of a pipe dream, too, because new houses are only 8% of the overall market despite permits for new construction reaching a five-year high, according to the National Association of Realtors.

So when will pricing get too much for buyers to bear? Probably when this pace continues under normal conditions. Mortgage rates are typically between 6% and 8%, while housing prices were 10% higher even before the bubble's unsustainable highs. When housing prices start rising at that frenetic bubble pace again, maybe then it will be time to panic.

In the meantime, getting Americans back into homes they can realistically afford is a much higher priority.

More on moneyNOW

Actually, this article does NOT talk about the shadow inventory banks are holding on to.
Apr 11, 2013 1:02AM
What a dumb statement. Blame everything on President Obama that will fix our problems.. President Obama is doing what he can to  fix  what  was left from the  pervious administration and battle with do nothing congress @FRED523
Apr 10, 2013 4:40PM
Because they are still 50 to 75% over priced ,a home that was $300,000 now $150,000 should be only 50 to 75 thousand DUH  , the GREAT  DEPRESSION never ended just because your told it did just look around DUH ,OBAMAGEDDON has only started
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