November 21, 2017

Recap of 2017: The Best Year in a Decade

Despite challenges, the housing markets remain on track for their best year in a decade by a variety of measures. Let's recap the major trends in the U.S. economy, housing and mortgage markets in 2017:

Real Economy for Favorable Housing

  • Economic growth picks up: While economic growth is still modest, it has been consistently positive. Solid job gains and low interest rates provide favorable economic conditions for housing and mortgage markets.
  • Robust job growth: The U.S. labor market keeps chugging along. Robust job gains have helped to support homebuyer demand, though the lack of an acceleration in wages remains disappointing.
  • Mortgage rates are low: Through the first 10 months of 2017, mortgage rates remained low by historical standards. With house prices outpacing income, low mortgage rates are the one factor helping to support homebuyer affordability.

Housing Markets on Track for the Best Year in a Decade

Modest economic growth, robust job gains, and low interest rates make for a favorable economic environment for housing and mortgage markets. But despite the favorable environment, housing markets have stalled a bit through summer and into fall. A lack of available for–sale inventory is helping to contribute to an acceleration in home prices.

  • Housing construction and sales stall: Despite a slowdown in home construction and home sales at the end of the year, both total home sales and housing starts still are on track for their best year in a decade.
  • Home prices accelerate: Strong demand, low mortgage rates and a lack of for–sale inventory have contributed to accelerating house prices. For an in–depth analysis of the factors driving house prices and whether recent rates of home price appreciation are sustainable, see our Insight “The ‘B' Word: Can we spot the next house price bubble?”

The Mortgage Market Shifts

Mortgage originations: Bolstered by low interest rates, single–family mortgage origination volume has held up better than expected. Low mortgage rates helped refinance volumes exceed expectations. Nevertheless, as we documented in September of this year, mortgage rates don't have to increase much to dampen refinance activity. Through the first three quarters of 2017, refinance originations are down 35 percent from last year's pace. Purchase activity has partially offset the decline, but for the full year, we forecast volume to decline about 15 percent from 2016's level. For more on the mortgage market, see our September 2017 Outlook.

What's ahead in 2018 and 2019?

It's unlikely the economic environment will be as favorable for housing and mortgage markets than it currently is. Current low mortgage rates offer monthly mortgage payments that are more affordable than at almost any time in history.

Read our November Outlook for further examination of future markets.