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The housing market slowdown, explained in 7 charts

It’s becoming harder for buyers and renters to afford housing with steep mortgage rates and ultra-high prices.

A “for sale” sign in Markham, Ontario. The housing market in the United States is slowing down — but rent prices continue to increase.
R.J. Johnston/Toronto Star via Getty Images
Madeleine Ngo covers economic policy for Vox. She previously worked at the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

After mortgage rates hit record lows during the pandemic, driving up demand for new homes and pushing up listing prices, the housing market is now slowing down.

That’s good news for buyers who can afford to stay in the market. But many prospective buyers are being priced out as high mortgage rates and steep prices make it unaffordable for some to purchase a new home. At the same time, new home construction has decreased as builders become warier of falling demand — and rent prices have continued to increase.

“Buyers have negotiating power really for the first time in several years,” said Nicole Bachaud, a senior economist at Zillow. “But that’s with the caveat of, only if you can afford home prices right now.”

Here are seven charts that help explain what’s happening with the housing market.

The average 30-year fixed mortgage rate reached 5.66 percent as of Sept. 1, according to Freddie Mac data. The rate has fluctuated in recent weeks, although it has slightly come down from its peak of 5.81 percent in June, which was the highest level since 2008.

Mortgage rates cratered during the pandemic over fears about the coronavirus and its impact on the US economy (in January 2021, the 30-year fixed mortgage rate reached 2.65 percent). That led to increased demand for homes, since lower mortgage rates make the cost of purchasing a house much cheaper because people have to pay less interest each month.

Mortgage rates rose rapidly earlier this year, in part because the Federal Reserve began raising interest rates to deal with high inflation. Although the Fed doesn’t directly set mortgage rates, higher interest rates generally make borrowing money more expensive across the economy. Fed policy is also one of the factors that can influence the 10-year Treasury yield, which fixed mortgage rates tend to track. As mortgage rates have risen, more buyers have been priced out of the housing market, cooling demand and increasing the supply of available homes.

Sales of new single-family and existing homes have plummeted, signaling cooler demand as high mortgage rates and home prices push potential buyers out of the market. Sales of new single-family houses in July were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 511,000 units, which is down 12.6 percent from June, according to Census Bureau data. That marks a nearly seven-year low.

The amount of time that listings are sitting on the market has also increased as competition has cooled down. The share of US homes that were listed for 30 days or longer without going under contract increased 12.5 percent in July compared to a year earlier, according to Redfin data.

Prices of homes skyrocketed as more Americans tried to take advantage of lower mortgage rates earlier in the pandemic. The combination of lower mortgage rates and an already short supply of houses led to bidding wars among potential buyers who were making offers above the listing price to beat out their competitors.

Although prices are starting to come down now, they still remain much higher than they were a year ago. The median existing-home price was $403,800 in July, according to data from the National Association of Realtors. That’s down $10,000 from June, but still 10.8 percent higher than a year before.

Some regions have seen home prices drop more rapidly, particularly in towns that have seen stronger demand for homes during the pandemic. For example, 70 percent of homes for sale in Boise, Idaho, dropped in price in July, according to a Redfin analysis. Other cities like Denver, Colorado, saw 58 percent of homes decrease in price in July.

Construction of new homes has slowed as builders grow more worried about a drop in demand because of higher mortgage rates. Housing starts, or the start of construction on a new residential housing unit, fell to 1.45 million in July, according to Census Bureau data. That was a 9.6 percent decline from the month before.

Builder confidence also fell in August for the eighth straight month as builders struggled to deal with lower demand for homes and higher construction costs because of ongoing supply-chain issues, according to a survey from the National Association of Home Builders.

“The total volume of single-family starts will post a decline in 2022, the first such decrease since 2011,” Robert Dietz, the Association’s chief economist, said in a statement.

After rising steadily earlier this year, new listings dropped to 670,766 in July, according to Redfin data. That’s down 132,649 new listings from the month before.

The data indicates that potential sellers are staying put as home price growth slows down, said Daryl Fairweather, the chief economist at Redfin. The labor market is also strong and homeowners are sitting on record equity, Fairweather said, meaning that they aren’t feeling pressured to list their homes.

“They were able to lock in really low mortgage rates, so they don’t really have a reason to sell,” Fairweather said. “If we entered into a recession and unemployment went up and homeowners couldn’t pay their mortgages anymore, then that would lead to a much faster decline in prices than what we’re seeing now. But I think it’s unlikely that will happen.”

Even as new listings fall, the total inventory of homes for sale has climbed as supply improves. The number of active for-sale listings increased by 5.1 percent in July from the month before, marking the fifth consecutive month that inventory has increased, according to data from Zillow. Still, a more substantial increase in supply has been hindered by the lack of new listings and a slowdown in new construction.

Rent prices also jumped during the pandemic, although the pace of growth has started to moderate. The typical monthly rent was $2,031 nationally in July, up 0.6 percent from June and 13.7 percent from a year ago, according to Zillow data.

Rent typically rises over time and rarely sees any price declines, so rent will likely only become more expensive. And as more prospective homebuyers are priced out because of higher mortgage rates and pricier listings, that will likely keep demand high in the rental market, said Yelena Maleyev, an economist at KPMG.

“What do people have to do if they can’t buy a house because so many more people are being priced out now with higher home prices and rising interest rates? They have to remain renters,” Maleyev said.

Housing affordability across the nation has plummeted as mortgage rates have increased, according to the National Association of Realtors’ Housing Affordability Index, which measures whether an average family earns enough income to qualify for a mortgage loan on a typical home. Affordability fell in June as the monthly mortgage payment climbed 53.7 percent and the median family income rose 5.8 percent compared to a year ago.

Although affordability is dropping and various metrics look concerning, a drastic downturn in the housing market is still unlikely, said Bachaud, the Zillow economist. Bachaud said the market is instead going through a “weird period of transition” to rebalance supply and demand after buyers struggled to find enough options earlier in the pandemic.

“What’s happening in the housing market right now looks really scary compared to where we’ve been,” Bachaud said. “But it’s important to remember that this is all to rebalance to get us back into a normal market.”