Extremely low mortgage rates may be putting would-be homebuyers in a tough spot down the road when they’re ready to sell, Zillow Chief Economist Stan Humphries warned on Tuesday.
“In a lot of markets, homebuyers are looking at home prices through this artificially distorted lense of very low rates,” Humphries said in a CNBC interview. In other words, they’re willing to pay more because rates are so cheap.
Fast-forward to when current homebuyers want to sell in the future. They might not get that healthy return they were expecting because higher rates tend to put a lid on housing appreciation.
“It’s important for us to get back to a bit more normal rate regime where homeowners are actually looking at the true price of housing … [without] looking at it through 3.5 percent mortgage rates,” he said—arguing a Federal Reserve rate hike might not be all bad for the housing market.
On Monday, the National Association of Realtors said existing home sales rose a less-than-expected 1.2 percent to an annual rate of 4.88 million units, after January’s 4.9 percent plunge.
Surprisingly, bad winter weather keeping buyers home was not to blame last month. It was lack of supply, which pushed prices of previously owned homes up 7.5 percent compared to February 2014 to a median sale price of $202,600, according the report.
What does this mean for the upcoming spring selling season and the rest of the year? Humphries said he’s “cautiously optimistic” about housing in 2015. “The only thing that could improve it would be faster income growth.
There are more people aspiring to become homeowners this year, according to the latest Zillow housing confidence index. “We see about 5 million renters … that want to buy homes this year, up from about 4 million [last year],” Humphries said on “Squawk Box.”
Not all those people will able to buy homes in 2015 because of marketplace frustrations such as tough credit standards and the difficulties saving for down payments, he added.
“We’re about two-thirds the way back to what looks like a normal credit access back in the early 2000s,” Humphries said.
“We’re a lot better than we were in 2010, the worst period for credit access” after the 2008 financial crisis, he continued. “We’re still really far off of 2003 and 2004 levels, when we had the easiest access.”
—Reuters contributed to this report.