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Will Low Mortgage Rates Hurt Home Sales?

flat rate

Last week, I argued that the super low mortgage rates could actually be contributing to strategic defaults.

The general idea being that the current low mortgage rates today make it even less desirable to hold a “high-rate” mortgage from the past.

The only positive from this assumption is that homeowners in this position may buy a new home and bail on the old one.

That’s a positive for them, minus the credit score hit, but a negative for the housing market and mortgage lenders (another foreclosure, more overpriced inventory that is difficult to unload).

And now it has occurred to me that the promise of low mortgage rates for the foreseeable future may have the unintended consequence of hurting home sales, at least in the near term.

Only 33% of Americans See Mortgage Rates Rising

You see, a new poll from mortgage financier Fannie Mae revealed that just 33 percent of consumers expect mortgage rates to rise in the next 12 months.

That figure is down from 45 percent a month ago, and is the lowest number Fannie has recorded since their monthly tracking began.

At first glance, it sounds like great news. Mortgage rates are going to stay at or near their record lows for longer than we thought.

Low mortgage payments for everyone who decides to dive in! Can’t argue with that.

But wait, why isn’t anyone buying a home? Well, if mortgage rates aren’t going anywhere fast, why not simply take a “wait-and-see” approach.

Kick back, see how the economic uncertainty plays out, watch for more home price declines, and buy next year instead.

You see, Americans also expect home prices to decline further. On average, they see a 1.1 percent decline over the next 12 months, which is the highest expected decline to date in the survey.

And only 18 percent believe home prices will increase over the next year, the lowest number reported to date.

So it’s a bit of a dilemma. If home prices are expected to keep slipping, and mortgage rates are forecast to hold steady, why buy now if you don’t have to?

[Home prices vs. mortgage rates]

Might as well just rent a little bit longer (or hang out in your parent’s basement) before making a move, especially since a lot of homeowners are pricing their homes higher as a result of the insanely low mortgage rates.

Of course, it’s still a relatively attractive time to buy as a first-time home buyer. And trying to time the bottom of the market is a pretty trick endeavor, if not impossible.

But with the traditionally slower portion of the home buying season ahead of us, holding out may lead to a discount over today’s prices.

Read more: Should you buy a house now or wait?

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