During an interview with CNBC this morning, Ara Hovnanian of K. Hovnanian Homes expressed that he’s not worried about higher mortgage rates hurting the housing market.
In fact, the mega home builder’s CEO actually thinks we’re in the “early innings” of the housing recovery, noting that housing starts are still way below the expected average for this decade.
He said we’re currently at a pace of around 900,000 annual starts, up from 500,000 just two years ago, but nowhere close to the 1.5-1.6 million expected.
At the same time, mortgage rates are still insanely cheap, as I pointed out yesterday.
Hovnanian recalled conditions back in 1983, when mortgage rates averaged 13.4% and housing starts were at a staggering 1.7 million.
So if you look at things from a mortgage rate point of view, there’s not enough supply to keep up with demand.
That would explain some of the recent home price gains, which are slated to keep increasing at a steady clip.
All in all, he didn’t seem too concerned about mortgage rates rising, so long as they don’t rise by some obscene amount in a short period of time.
Funnily enough, he actually called for 3% mortgage rates back in 2008 to solve the problem of supply and demand. Looks like he got his wish…
Customers Want Bigger Homes While Rates Are Cheap
At the moment, Hovnanian says customers have been buying the largest of their offerings, perhaps because housing is so affordable.
In fact, they’ve had to design larger homes to add to their lineup to keep up with that trend.
In Houston, customers can buy a 4,000 square foot home for $250,000, which is pretty darn huge (and cheap).
So it’s no wonder people will go bigger if they can. But if rates rise to say 5.5%, Hovnanian said the same customer might go with a 3,000 square feet house. If rates really shoot up, he said customers could even settle for a townhouse instead.
In other words, he doesn’t think higher mortgage rates will cool the housing market per se, they will just dictate what prospective buyers can afford.
[Check out my mortgage payment graphs to assess affordability.]
People Need Shelter…
Hovnanian seems to believe that the need for shelter is what’s driving the market recovery, though you have to wonder if it’s just that pesky bubble mentality creeping back in, what with home prices still “on sale” and rates so attractive.
Of course, inventory constraints seem to be the real issue, and Hovnanian is clearly pleased that the private equity funds are buying up scores of single-family homes throughout the United States.
Thanks to the likes of Blackstone and Colony American Homes, demand for his company’s homes is probably that much higher.
And he doesn’t think they’ll flip the homes they buy – conversely, he sees them holding and renting for years to come, and slowly unloading as prices rise.
However, he does think managing such a large number of homes will be challenging.
Finally, Hovnanian weighed in on potential winning real estate markets throughout the country, naming both Northern and Southern California, along with Phoenix and “many of the land-constrained Florida markets.”
Other winners in his eyes included Washington D.C., New Jersey, and suburban New York.
Of course, this should all be taken with a grain of salt, seeing that he’s the head of a major home building company. But he does have some decent points about rates and supply.
Maybe there is a lot more upside ahead, so long as the distressed inventory doesn’t rear its ugly head.