Home affordability in the United States is nothing short of amazing. Even though current price trends for the United States and Canada are considerably different, the same principle applies in both cases: clients need perspective and they need to look beneath surface statistics before making informed decisions
The first chart below dramatically illustrates the impact of lower interest rates on housing costs, and the relative affordability of housing in the United States. The cost of a loaf of bread and a gallon of gas has more than tripled since 1989, and car prices have nearly doubled. While the median price of a new home has increased by 70 percent, mortgage interest rates, which stood at 10 percent back in 1989, are less than half of what they were back then. The impact of rock-bottom interest rates is that the monthly mortgage payment on a median priced home in the United States has increased by a mere $4 since 1989.
Unless a buyer is paying cash, the monthly payment tends to be a far more relevant number than the home’s actual purchase price. So for buyers who are waiting for home prices to hit the floor, before buying it’s important to point out that the possibility of a slight drop in the price of a home will have very little impact on the monthly payment, while even a slight rise in interest rates (a far more likely scenario) will have a significant impact.
Timing the market to a T is never possible and in the current market, staying on the sidelines is more likely to result in a missed opportunity than a small savings.
Even so, buyer reluctance in the current market can outweigh compelling facts. U.S. buyers are skittish about the housing market, and the fact is market skittishness is actually a good reason to buy now. General uncertainty about the housing market and a reluctance to take action only contributes to the number of deals and negotiating power available to astute buyers. U.S. buyers who are waiting for the real estate market to “recover” are in fact waiting for a reduction in inventory, fewer foreclosed properties on banks’ books, rising home prices and sellers who don’t need to be as motivated.
That scenario will be welcome news for sellers, banks and the U.S. economy as a whole, but not for buyers. Now is the time for U.S. buyers to act and for you to offer the perspective that helps them to understand why.
In Canada, on the other hand, average home prices are trending upwards, but as is always the case, those of us who are willing to dig beneath surface statistics are far better positioned to help our clients to understand the big picture and to take action. Before we look at housing affordability in Canada, though, I’d urge all Canadian associates to make sure that your clients also understand the opportunities that rock-bottom U.S. interest rates and real estate prices – particularly in the sunshine states – represent to them as well. In doing so, you stand to power a new stream of referral income.
As the chart below indicates, the average home price in Canada has increased by 160 percent since 1990, while increasing 9.5 percent since last year. For some buyers, this trend might contribute to a sense of urgency to buy before housing prices shoot up any further.
Others could take one look at current prices and be convinced that they have been priced out of the market. This is where your perspective proves critical. Remind your buyers that all real estate is local. The recent run-up in average real estate prices reflects above-normal sales activity in the priciest markets, so make sure that your clients are looking at local price trends within their specific price range.
At the same time, remind your clients that the monthly mortgage payment, not the actual purchase price, tends to be the relevant number. Whereas the average home price in Canada has increased by 160 percent since 1990, mortgage interest rates have decreased by 60 percent. As a result, over the past decade, the average mortgage payment has increased by less than 25 percent – a statistic that is likely to shift the perspectives of many Canadians on the feasibility buying a home in the current market.