Pending home sales fell in February for the fourth consecutive month, but the decline isn’t due to waning demand from eager home buyers. In fact, it’s just the opposite: Competition is growing fiercer, even as buyers face record-low inventory.
The National Association of REALTORS®’ Pending Home Sales Index—a forward-looking indicator of home sales based on contract signings—fell 4.1% month over month in February and 5.4% annually. All four major regions of the U.S. registered a decline in annual contract activity last month. “Buyer demand is still intense, but it’s as simple as ‘one cannot buy what is not for sale,’” says NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun.
Buyers are facing limited choices, higher home prices, and rising mortgage rates, which has led to a 28% annual increase in mortgage payments, according to NAR. Still, many aspiring home buyers are in a rush to get ahead of further rate increases that are likely on the horizon.
Yun is forecasting that 30-year fixed mortgage rates will likely average about 4.5% to 5% for the remainder of the year. He also is forecasting a 7% reduction in home sales in 2022 compared to 2021, partially due to higher costs pricing out more home buyers. “It is still an extremely competitive market, but fast-changing conditions regarding affordability are ahead,” Yun says. “Consequently, home sellers cannot simply bump up prices in the upcoming months but need to assess the changing market conditions to attract buyers.”
There’s no end in sight to the intense competition for homes that’s upended the U.S. real estate market since the start of the pandemic—especially in the entry-level luxury market.
In February, homes listed between $1 million and $1.5 million recorded the highest bidding-war rate of 76.6%, according to the Redfin report Friday, that analyzed home offers written by its agents. Nationally, a record 68.6% of all homes saw bidding wars on a seasonally adjusted basis.
The percentage of homes facing bidding wars has generally been increasing over the last two years. In April 2020, 32.7% of homes experienced bidding wars compared to 60.2% in February 2021. Even though the growth has been slower since 2021, this year’s performance keeps breaking records.
Rising home prices have brought rising equity gains for homeowners. In the fourth quarter, the average homeowner nationwide gained about $55,300 in equity over the past year, according to a new analysis released by CoreLogic, its latest quarterly “Homeowner Equity Insights” report.
Western state homeowners are continuing to see some of the largest equity gains by dollar value.
For example, Hawaii, California, and Washington saw the largest increases in average equity gains in the fourth quarter. Hawaii posted an average $128,300 annual gain, followed by a $117,000 increase in California, and $95,500 in Washington.
For many homebuyers, the thought of saving for a down payment can feel daunting, especially in today’s market. That’s why, when asked what they find most difficult in the homebuying process, some buyers say it’s one of the hardest steps on the path to homeownership. Data from the National Association of Realtors (NAR) shows:
“For first-time home buyers, 29 percent said saving for a downpayment [sic] was the most difficult step in the process.”
If you’re finding that your down payment is your biggest hurdle, the good news is there are many down payment assistance programs available that can help you achieve your goals. The key is understanding where to look and learning what options are available. Here’s some information that can help.
First-Time and Repeat Buyers Are Often Eligible
According to downpaymentresource.com, there are thousands of financial assistance programs available for homebuyers, like affordable mortgage options for first-time buyers. But, of the many programs that are available, down payment assistance options make up the large majority. They say 73% of the assistance available to homebuyers is there to help you with your down payment.
And it’s not just first-time homebuyers that are eligible for these programs. Downpaymentresource.com notes:
“You don’t have to be a first-time buyer. Over 38% of all programs are for repeat homebuyers who have owned a home in the last 3 years.”
That means no matter where you are in your homeownership journey, there could be an option available for you.