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美國樓市因為新冠疫情而出現驚人變化

美國樓市因為新冠疫情而出現驚人變化

Shawn Tully 2021年03月13日
美國正在經歷自2006年房地產熱高潮以來最大規模的房價暴漲。

美國企業研究所住房中心(American Enterprise Institute’s Housing Center)的數據顯示,美國正在經歷自2006年房地產熱高潮以來最大規模的房價暴漲,其將在早春實現中雙位數增長。但這次的房地產市場表現與以往的牛市特征(抵押貸款利率超低,且地產庫存較少)完全不同,堪稱出現了顛覆性的變化。這是新冠疫情期間,經濟方面最重大、最鮮為人知的變化之一:以往漲價幅度總是落后于市場的高端住宅,目前的升值速度正在與炙手可熱的低端住宅并駕齊驅。

原因是:過去的美國富人習慣于在他們居住或工作的地方購買第二套豪宅,而如今,疫情期間他們無需到寫字樓上班,可以在任何地方工作。所以他們賣了在圣何塞、西雅圖或芝加哥的房子,然后在菲尼克斯、博伊西或辛辛那提買了一棟更大、更便宜的房子。在那里,他們能夠在寬敞的家庭休息室里通過Zoom與同事們溝通,在泳池邊度過周末,看孩子們在大大的后院里嬉戲。

“這一趨勢之前已經開始,但新冠疫情加劇了這一變化?!泵绹髽I研究所住房中心的主任埃德·平托說?!拔覀儚奈匆娺^規模如此之大的房地產套利,不管工作地點在哪,人們都選擇去邊遠城市搜尋性價比更高的房子。這讓我想起了19世紀中期的土地熱,當時伊利諾伊州的土地越來越貴,于是人們去堪薩斯尋找更大、更便宜的農場,然后繼續向西部遷移,以獲得更多的土地和更好的性價比。這次是自由市場在房地產領域的勝利?!?/p>

過去,靠低利率支撐的房地產牛市期間,最便宜的房屋總是升值最快。高端住宅也略有漲幅,卻不如低端住宅。以圣何塞為例,當時居住和工作在圣何塞的富人,通常的做法是,在圣何塞購買第二套房。

平托說,與美國聯邦住房管理局(Federal Housing Administration)資助的首次購房者相比,這些家庭通常會支付更多的首付,貸款較少?!八麄兪且粋€比較保守的群體。他們會在買更多房子的同時,讓月供依舊和以前一樣多,而且他們經常這樣做?!彼a充說道?!暗绻幸患胰?,他們住在一棟漂亮的、價值100萬美元的三居室里,而且仍然喜歡那棟房子。那么他們就沒有必要急著去買城里另一邊更貴的四居室房子?!?/p>

它不像低端住宅,政府為其提供了很多支持,實際上是在告訴你:“去買那套房子!”結果是,在經濟繁榮時期,有美國聯邦住房管理局支持的首套住房購買者,一般會讓低端住宅的房價升高,其對或殖民地時期風格、或后現代風格豪宅的刺激力度,遠低于高收入者在自己的家鄉買房。

可移式住宅

而美國人新出現的流動性正在扭轉這一長期趨勢。自去年6月以來,高端住宅價格增幅在10月與低端住宅持平,此后一直保持著增長勢頭。美國企業研究所將房屋分為了四個價位類別:低端、中低端、中高端和高端,并提供了40個大城市的具體房價。由美國聯邦住房管理局提供貸款融資、銷售額等于或低于40%的,屬于低端住宅。具體價格則因地而異。在圣迭戈,低端住宅的平均價格是37.7萬美元,而在夏洛特是14.7萬美元。西雅圖中高端住宅的房價是68.1萬美元,在菲尼克斯則是41.4萬美元。對美國聯邦住房管理局、房利美(Fannie Mae)或房地美(Freddie Mac)來說,高端住宅過于昂貴,因此買家通常會從銀行或其他貸款機構申請較低的房屋抵押貸款,比例在70%至80%之間。

從2012年到2020年年中,低端住宅的升值表現遠遠好于高端住宅,年均升值率約為7%,而中高端和高端住宅的升值率分別約為5%和4%。直到一年前,低端住宅的價格漲幅仍然處于顯著領先地位。但今年1月的數據顯示,三類住宅的升值速度開始并駕齊驅,升值率達到了十年來從未有過的水平:低端住宅為14.3%,中高端住宅為16.1%,高端則為13.7%。

對平托來說,在火爆的房地產市場中,高端住宅的強勁表現標志著一種結構性轉變,這種轉變可能至少會持續兩年。要預測不同類型住宅房價的走勢,重要的是,考察推動房產升值的高度有利因素的綜合作用,以及新冠疫情帶來的居家辦公經濟是如何為高端住宅市場推波助瀾的。讓我們先開始進行需求分析。

為了預測未來幾個月的房價,平托收集了大量具有代表性的樣本數據,這些數據包括提交給美國聯邦住房管理局、房利美和房地美以及其它政府機構和私人銀行的貸款申請。這些被稱為“利率鎖定”數字,因為合同是在貸款人設定抵押貸款利率時簽訂的。這些數據能夠讓他在銷售情況公開之前,早早預測未來的房價?;谶@些信息,他預測未來幾個月房價將加速上漲,甚至可能超過1月的升值率,可能所有類別的住宅都是如此。

在之前住宅升值率很低的時候,這一方法使平托準確地預測到,房價升值率在今年早些時候將達到兩位數。2020年,房地產市場開始飛速發展。截至今年3月初,購房合同數量達到了5.1萬份,超過了2019年同期的3.3萬份。出乎意料的是,疫情爆發只讓買房者望而卻步了大約七個星期。

從2020年6月中旬到11月底,新簽合同數量平均每月約為5萬份,遠高于2019年的3.5萬份。在經歷了季節性的、年底的下跌后,利率鎖定再次飆升,比2019年高出約60%。這些大額的合同數據,預示著未來幾個月的銷售額將大幅增長,并顯示出強勁的上升勢頭,我們幾乎可以肯定,它會繼續增長。

隨著美國人對房屋需求加劇,待售房屋的庫存在不斷減少。平托提出了造成庫存緊張的四個原因。首先,年屆六七十歲的嬰兒潮一代不再待在公寓里了,他們住在家里的時間變得更長。大約是因為在疫情期間,能夠供全家人居住的房子變得很有吸引力。其次,諸如卡羅萊納州和得克薩斯州等建筑相對密集的地方,需要更長時間來獲得土地規劃許可和新建筑批準。第三,東北部和西部大部分地區嚴格的土地使用限制,制約了新房屋的供應。第四,由于疫情因素,春夏季工人無法順暢施工,進一步放大了這些不利阻礙。

以上因素綜合作用,將庫存推至了歷史低點。自2020年1月以來,掛牌出售的房屋數量從100萬套銳減至60萬套?!叭セ聰怠笔侵赴凑债斍八俣瘸鍪鬯蟹吭此璧臅r間,目前已經從3.3個月降至2個月。平托估計,這還不到5個月庫存量的一半,標志著市場處于均衡狀態。值得注意的是,中高端住宅的去化月數僅為微不足道的2.2個月,高端住宅為4.7個月,約為去年4月8.9個月的一半。

更大、更新、更貴

巨大的需求和極度緊張的庫存使房價飛漲。而大城市的房產往往升值最快。在這些大城市中,一些高收入的家庭正在搬離,以用更少的錢購買更大、更新的房子,而他們離開的房價過高的地區,其房價漲幅則是最低的。

最大的贏家是菲尼克斯。從2020年1月到今年1月,其年升值率從9%增長到了全國領先的14.5%。和菲尼克斯一樣,薩克拉曼多也受益于洛杉磯和舊金山的人口外流,高端和中高端住宅的年升值率分別達到了18.1%和19.7%。大套利的其它贏家是加利福尼亞的里弗賽德(中高端住宅17.4%)、坦帕(20.5%)、納什維爾(16.5%)和亞特蘭大(14.1%)。

俄亥俄州哥倫布市的廉價住房,吸引了在芝加哥可以居家辦公的富人們,推動中高端住宅的房價,較2020年1月上漲了16%。令人驚訝的是費城,其高端住宅的年升值率從2020年1月的1.5%,飆升至了12月的18.2%。費城與曼哈頓及其郊區之間的巨大價格差猶如一個吸塵器,將高收入者從狹小的公寓或小房子中拉出來,來到這座城市,購買更大、更便宜的房子。每周坐美國鐵路公司(Amtrak)的火車,長途跋涉去他們位于紐約的辦公室一兩次,只需要花費90分鐘左右。平托說,普羅維登斯非常熱門,這要歸功于波士頓的外流人口。新澤西州的紐瓦克和阿斯伯里帕克飽受曼哈頓人潮的熱捧,他們穿過哈德遜河,正在尋機購買豪宅。

抵押貸款利率會何去何從?

最大的問題是,抵押貸款利率的提高,是會拉平年升值率曲線還是使其下降。30年期基準利率已經從1月初的2.65%升至3.25%。平托認為,如果基準利率達到4%,全國的房價將繼續實現高個位數增長?!叭绻鶞世食^5%,這個政黨就會下臺?!彼f?!拔覀儸F在離那還遠著呢?!?/p>

他說,30年期基準利率的升高,不會對4月和5月的房價造成任何影響,因為這些交易已經完成。因此,在這幾個月里,房價的升值率會保持在13%至14%以內。但基準利率的提高將在5月底和6月產生影響。平托說:“到那時,房價升值率應該會放緩到9%至10%?!斑@個速度仍然非???,比過去10年的任何時候都要快,當然,比不過最近的升值速度?!彼a充說。

但他說,月供稍微提高一點,并不會阻礙一些大城市,其中高端住宅房價持續上漲的基礎性變化?!?.5%的基準利率,不會停止圣何塞人搬到菲尼克斯的腳步,在那里他們可以以少30%的價格買到更大的房子?!彼f。他對比了圣何塞的一套1400平方英尺的房子(60.2萬美元)、薩克拉門托的一套2200平方英尺的房子(43萬美元),以及菲尼克斯的一套更大的抹灰模型房子(38.4萬美元)?!百u掉北加州的房子并搬走的家庭,獲得的房子更大、月供更少,還能夠再拿到手一些錢?!?/p>

對平托而言,正是疫情帶來的新的生活方式,將已經形成的震顫變成了一場地震。他說:“在過去,加利福尼亞和紐約似乎是壟斷市場。如果你在那里工作,你就得花大價錢住在那里。45年來,高端住宅的價格越來越讓人難以承受。直到最近,人們還覺得自己別無選擇,只能住在圣何塞、舊金山或西雅圖。但疫情打破了禁錮。如此大規模的人口外流,之前從未發生過。最終,自由市場將獲取勝利?!边@本來需要幾十年的時間,但這場疫情打開了大門。最好,這場新的土地熱會繼續以強勁的步伐前行。(財富中文網)

譯者:Claire

美國企業研究所住房中心(American Enterprise Institute’s Housing Center)的數據顯示,美國正在經歷自2006年房地產熱高潮以來最大規模的房價暴漲,其將在早春實現中雙位數增長。但這次的房地產市場表現與以往的牛市特征(抵押貸款利率超低,且地產庫存較少)完全不同,堪稱出現了顛覆性的變化。這是新冠疫情期間,經濟方面最重大、最鮮為人知的變化之一:以往漲價幅度總是落后于市場的高端住宅,目前的升值速度正在與炙手可熱的低端住宅并駕齊驅。

原因是:過去的美國富人習慣于在他們居住或工作的地方購買第二套豪宅,而如今,疫情期間他們無需到寫字樓上班,可以在任何地方工作。所以他們賣了在圣何塞、西雅圖或芝加哥的房子,然后在菲尼克斯、博伊西或辛辛那提買了一棟更大、更便宜的房子。在那里,他們能夠在寬敞的家庭休息室里通過Zoom與同事們溝通,在泳池邊度過周末,看孩子們在大大的后院里嬉戲。

“這一趨勢之前已經開始,但新冠疫情加劇了這一變化?!泵绹髽I研究所住房中心的主任埃德·平托說?!拔覀儚奈匆娺^規模如此之大的房地產套利,不管工作地點在哪,人們都選擇去邊遠城市搜尋性價比更高的房子。這讓我想起了19世紀中期的土地熱,當時伊利諾伊州的土地越來越貴,于是人們去堪薩斯尋找更大、更便宜的農場,然后繼續向西部遷移,以獲得更多的土地和更好的性價比。這次是自由市場在房地產領域的勝利?!?/p>

過去,靠低利率支撐的房地產牛市期間,最便宜的房屋總是升值最快。高端住宅也略有漲幅,卻不如低端住宅。以圣何塞為例,當時居住和工作在圣何塞的富人,通常的做法是,在圣何塞購買第二套房。

平托說,與美國聯邦住房管理局(Federal Housing Administration)資助的首次購房者相比,這些家庭通常會支付更多的首付,貸款較少?!八麄兪且粋€比較保守的群體。他們會在買更多房子的同時,讓月供依舊和以前一樣多,而且他們經常這樣做?!彼a充說道?!暗绻幸患胰?,他們住在一棟漂亮的、價值100萬美元的三居室里,而且仍然喜歡那棟房子。那么他們就沒有必要急著去買城里另一邊更貴的四居室房子?!?/p>

它不像低端住宅,政府為其提供了很多支持,實際上是在告訴你:“去買那套房子!”結果是,在經濟繁榮時期,有美國聯邦住房管理局支持的首套住房購買者,一般會讓低端住宅的房價升高,其對或殖民地時期風格、或后現代風格豪宅的刺激力度,遠低于高收入者在自己的家鄉買房。

可移式住宅

而美國人新出現的流動性正在扭轉這一長期趨勢。自去年6月以來,高端住宅價格增幅在10月與低端住宅持平,此后一直保持著增長勢頭。美國企業研究所將房屋分為了四個價位類別:低端、中低端、中高端和高端,并提供了40個大城市的具體房價。由美國聯邦住房管理局提供貸款融資、銷售額等于或低于40%的,屬于低端住宅。具體價格則因地而異。在圣迭戈,低端住宅的平均價格是37.7萬美元,而在夏洛特是14.7萬美元。西雅圖中高端住宅的房價是68.1萬美元,在菲尼克斯則是41.4萬美元。對美國聯邦住房管理局、房利美(Fannie Mae)或房地美(Freddie Mac)來說,高端住宅過于昂貴,因此買家通常會從銀行或其他貸款機構申請較低的房屋抵押貸款,比例在70%至80%之間。

從2012年到2020年年中,低端住宅的升值表現遠遠好于高端住宅,年均升值率約為7%,而中高端和高端住宅的升值率分別約為5%和4%。直到一年前,低端住宅的價格漲幅仍然處于顯著領先地位。但今年1月的數據顯示,三類住宅的升值速度開始并駕齊驅,升值率達到了十年來從未有過的水平:低端住宅為14.3%,中高端住宅為16.1%,高端則為13.7%。

對平托來說,在火爆的房地產市場中,高端住宅的強勁表現標志著一種結構性轉變,這種轉變可能至少會持續兩年。要預測不同類型住宅房價的走勢,重要的是,考察推動房產升值的高度有利因素的綜合作用,以及新冠疫情帶來的居家辦公經濟是如何為高端住宅市場推波助瀾的。讓我們先開始進行需求分析。

為了預測未來幾個月的房價,平托收集了大量具有代表性的樣本數據,這些數據包括提交給美國聯邦住房管理局、房利美和房地美以及其它政府機構和私人銀行的貸款申請。這些被稱為“利率鎖定”數字,因為合同是在貸款人設定抵押貸款利率時簽訂的。這些數據能夠讓他在銷售情況公開之前,早早預測未來的房價?;谶@些信息,他預測未來幾個月房價將加速上漲,甚至可能超過1月的升值率,可能所有類別的住宅都是如此。

在之前住宅升值率很低的時候,這一方法使平托準確地預測到,房價升值率在今年早些時候將達到兩位數。2020年,房地產市場開始飛速發展。截至今年3月初,購房合同數量達到了5.1萬份,超過了2019年同期的3.3萬份。出乎意料的是,疫情爆發只讓買房者望而卻步了大約七個星期。

從2020年6月中旬到11月底,新簽合同數量平均每月約為5萬份,遠高于2019年的3.5萬份。在經歷了季節性的、年底的下跌后,利率鎖定再次飆升,比2019年高出約60%。這些大額的合同數據,預示著未來幾個月的銷售額將大幅增長,并顯示出強勁的上升勢頭,我們幾乎可以肯定,它會繼續增長。

隨著美國人對房屋需求加劇,待售房屋的庫存在不斷減少。平托提出了造成庫存緊張的四個原因。首先,年屆六七十歲的嬰兒潮一代不再待在公寓里了,他們住在家里的時間變得更長。大約是因為在疫情期間,能夠供全家人居住的房子變得很有吸引力。其次,諸如卡羅萊納州和得克薩斯州等建筑相對密集的地方,需要更長時間來獲得土地規劃許可和新建筑批準。第三,東北部和西部大部分地區嚴格的土地使用限制,制約了新房屋的供應。第四,由于疫情因素,春夏季工人無法順暢施工,進一步放大了這些不利阻礙。

以上因素綜合作用,將庫存推至了歷史低點。自2020年1月以來,掛牌出售的房屋數量從100萬套銳減至60萬套?!叭セ聰怠笔侵赴凑债斍八俣瘸鍪鬯蟹吭此璧臅r間,目前已經從3.3個月降至2個月。平托估計,這還不到5個月庫存量的一半,標志著市場處于均衡狀態。值得注意的是,中高端住宅的去化月數僅為微不足道的2.2個月,高端住宅為4.7個月,約為去年4月8.9個月的一半。

更大、更新、更貴

巨大的需求和極度緊張的庫存使房價飛漲。而大城市的房產往往升值最快。在這些大城市中,一些高收入的家庭正在搬離,以用更少的錢購買更大、更新的房子,而他們離開的房價過高的地區,其房價漲幅則是最低的。

最大的贏家是菲尼克斯。從2020年1月到今年1月,其年升值率從9%增長到了全國領先的14.5%。和菲尼克斯一樣,薩克拉曼多也受益于洛杉磯和舊金山的人口外流,高端和中高端住宅的年升值率分別達到了18.1%和19.7%。大套利的其它贏家是加利福尼亞的里弗賽德(中高端住宅17.4%)、坦帕(20.5%)、納什維爾(16.5%)和亞特蘭大(14.1%)。

俄亥俄州哥倫布市的廉價住房,吸引了在芝加哥可以居家辦公的富人們,推動中高端住宅的房價,較2020年1月上漲了16%。令人驚訝的是費城,其高端住宅的年升值率從2020年1月的1.5%,飆升至了12月的18.2%。費城與曼哈頓及其郊區之間的巨大價格差猶如一個吸塵器,將高收入者從狹小的公寓或小房子中拉出來,來到這座城市,購買更大、更便宜的房子。每周坐美國鐵路公司(Amtrak)的火車,長途跋涉去他們位于紐約的辦公室一兩次,只需要花費90分鐘左右。平托說,普羅維登斯非常熱門,這要歸功于波士頓的外流人口。新澤西州的紐瓦克和阿斯伯里帕克飽受曼哈頓人潮的熱捧,他們穿過哈德遜河,正在尋機購買豪宅。

抵押貸款利率會何去何從?

最大的問題是,抵押貸款利率的提高,是會拉平年升值率曲線還是使其下降。30年期基準利率已經從1月初的2.65%升至3.25%。平托認為,如果基準利率達到4%,全國的房價將繼續實現高個位數增長?!叭绻鶞世食^5%,這個政黨就會下臺?!彼f?!拔覀儸F在離那還遠著呢?!?/p>

他說,30年期基準利率的升高,不會對4月和5月的房價造成任何影響,因為這些交易已經完成。因此,在這幾個月里,房價的升值率會保持在13%至14%以內。但基準利率的提高將在5月底和6月產生影響。平托說:“到那時,房價升值率應該會放緩到9%至10%?!斑@個速度仍然非???,比過去10年的任何時候都要快,當然,比不過最近的升值速度?!彼a充說。

但他說,月供稍微提高一點,并不會阻礙一些大城市,其中高端住宅房價持續上漲的基礎性變化?!?.5%的基準利率,不會停止圣何塞人搬到菲尼克斯的腳步,在那里他們可以以少30%的價格買到更大的房子?!彼f。他對比了圣何塞的一套1400平方英尺的房子(60.2萬美元)、薩克拉門托的一套2200平方英尺的房子(43萬美元),以及菲尼克斯的一套更大的抹灰模型房子(38.4萬美元)?!百u掉北加州的房子并搬走的家庭,獲得的房子更大、月供更少,還能夠再拿到手一些錢?!?/p>

對平托而言,正是疫情帶來的新的生活方式,將已經形成的震顫變成了一場地震。他說:“在過去,加利福尼亞和紐約似乎是壟斷市場。如果你在那里工作,你就得花大價錢住在那里。45年來,高端住宅的價格越來越讓人難以承受。直到最近,人們還覺得自己別無選擇,只能住在圣何塞、舊金山或西雅圖。但疫情打破了禁錮。如此大規模的人口外流,之前從未發生過。最終,自由市場將獲取勝利?!边@本來需要幾十年的時間,但這場疫情打開了大門。最好,這場新的土地熱會繼續以強勁的步伐前行。(財富中文網)

譯者:Claire

The U.S. is riding the greatest housing price explosion since the height of the 2006 craze, setting a pace that's due to hit the mid-teens by early spring, according to the American Enterprise Institute's Housing Center. But this boom is a game changer, a completely different phenomenon from previous bull runs featuring super-low mortgage rates and slender inventories. In a historic turnabout that's one of the biggest, most underreported stories of the COVID economy, expensive homes—which almost always lag in a surging market—are racing neck-and-neck with the sizzling low end.

The reason: Affluent Americans who used to shop for move-up manses where they live and work no longer need to commute to an office complex and can work from anywhere. So they're selling in San Jose, Seattle, or Chicago and buying a bigger, cheaper house in Phoenix or Boise or Cincinnati, where they Zoom with colleagues from expansive home dens, spend weekends poolside, and watch their kids frolic in a big backyard.

"This trend was already underway, but the pandemic made it far stronger," says Ed Pinto, director of the AEI Housing Center. "We've never seen a housing arbitrage play on anything like this scale, with people seeking better deals in far-flung cities regardless of where they work. It reminds me of the great land rush of the mid-1800s where as land got more expensive in Illinois, people went to Kansas for bigger, cheaper farms, then kept moving west for more space and better deals. It's the free market winning in housing."

In past strong markets sustained by low rates, it has been the least expensive homes that almost always showed the fastest gains. The upper tiers benefited, too, but less so. The affluent customers living and working in, say, San Jose, were most often shopping for a move-up home in San Jose.

Those families were typically putting up more cash and using less leverage than first time buyers supported by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), says Pinto. "They were a more conservative group. They could buy more house with the same monthly payment as before, and often did," he adds. "But a family living in a nice three-bedroom, $1 million house still liked that house. They didn't necessarily sprint to buy the more expensive four-bedroom house across town.”

It wasn't like the low end, where the government is providing so much help it's really telling you, “Go buy that house!” The upshot is that in good times, the FHA crowd purchasing their first homes tended to pump the accelerator at the low end a lot harder than the high-earners shopping in their hometowns did for the colonials and postmoderns in the upper range.

Mobile homes

Americans’ newfound mobility is reversing that longstanding trend. Since June, expensive homes pulled even with the low end in October, and have been keeping pace ever since. The AEI splits homes into four price buckets: low, low-medium, medium-high, and high, and provides the breakdowns for 40 metros. Sales at or below the 40th percentile for those financed with FHA loans fall in the low bin. That numbers ranges all over depending on the metro; in San Diego, the average in the low bin is $377,000, while in Charlotte it's $147,000. The "medium-high" sits at $681,000 in Seattle and $414,000 in Phoenix. High-end abodes are usually too expensive for FHA, Fannie Mae, or Freddie Mac financing, so buyers typically get lower home-to-value mortgages in the 70% to 80% range from banks or other lenders.

From 2012 to mid-2020, "low" far outperformed the higher ranges, booking average appreciation of around 7% a year, versus roughly 5% for "medium-high" and 4% for "high." A year ago, low still enjoyed a significant lead in both categories. But the numbers for January show all three tiers locked in a tight race, and speeding at rates not witnessed in a decade: the low end sprinting at 14.3%, medium-high at 16.1%, and high at 13.7%.

For Pinto, the nose-to-nose performance of the high end in a raging market marks a tectonic shift that's likely to persist for at least two years. To foresee where the different price tiers are heading, it's important to examine the confluence of highly favorable forces propelling all housing, and how the pandemic-driven, work-at-home economy is supercharging the high end. Let's start with the powerhouse demand picture.

To forecast prices in the months ahead, Pinto collects a large, representative sample of the data on loan applications submitted to FHA, Fannie, and Freddie and other government agencies, as well as private banks. Those are called "rate lock" numbers, since the contracts are signed when the lenders set the mortgage rate. That data allows him to project prices into the future, well before the sales are a matter of public record. Based on that information, he's projecting that prices will accelerate in future months even exceeding the rate reported for January, probably in all price tiers.

That methodology led Pinto to accurately predict that what he calls “HPA,” for home price appreciation, was heading for double digits earlier this year, when the rate of increase was much lower. Housing started 2020 on a tear. By early March, purchase contracts were exceeding same-week 2019 levels 51,000 to 33,000. Surprisingly, the COVID outbreak sidelined buyers for only about seven weeks.

From mid-June to the end of November, newly signed contracts were running at about 50,000 a month on average, far above the 35,000 registered in 2019. After taking a seasonal, year-end dip, rate locks spiked again, running around 60% over 2019 levels for the rest of the year. Those big contract numbers foretold a giant jump in sales in the months ahead, and showed momentum so strong that it was almost certain to keep building.

As America's hunger for houses intensified, the stock of homes for sale kept shrinking. Pinto offers four reasons for the inventory crunch. First, older baby boomers in their sixties and seventies are staying longer in their homes instead of downsizing to apartments, in part because the pandemic makes having space for hosting the family so attractive. Second, in places like the Carolinas and Texas, where building has been relatively plentiful, it's been taking longer and longer to get land zoned and approved for new construction. Third, severe land use restrictions in the Northeast and much of the West continue to keep a tight lid on fresh supply. Fourth, COVID magnified the damage from those barriers by shutting down construction for a couple of months in the spring and summer.

The result was a perfect gale that drove inventories to historic lows. Since January 2020, the number of homes listed for sale has cratered from 1 million to 600,000. “Months of supply,” the time required to sell all listings at the current pace, has fallen in that period from 3.3 to 2.0 months. That's less than half the five-month stock that, Pinto reckons, marks a balanced market. Remarkably, the number for homes in the medium-high category is a paltry 2.2 months, and the high end stands at 4.7 months, about half the 8.9 reading last April.

Bigger, newer, more expensive

The combination of gigantic demand and ultra-tight inventories is sending prices skyward. And the biggest leaps are frequently coming in metros where newly mobile, high-income families are moving to buy a much bigger, newer house for a lot less money, while the exorbitantly priced locales they're leaving are posting the lowest gains.

The biggest winner is Phoenix. From January 2020 to January of this year, its annual appreciation rate, or HPA, expanded from 9% to a nation-leading 14.5%. Like Phoenix, Sacramento benefited from the outflow from L.A. and San Francisco, as high and medium-high HPAs touched 18.1% and 19.7% respectively. Other winners from the Great Arbitrage were Riverside, Calif. (medium-high 17.4%), Tampa (20.5%), Nashville (16.5%), and Atlanta (14.1%).

The housing bargains in Columbus, Ohio, are drawing affluent work-from-homers from Chicago, pushing medium-to-high prices up 16% from January 2020. A coastal surprise is Philadelphia, where the HPA for the high grouping zoomed from 1.5% in January 2020 to 18.2% in December. The giant price gap between Philly and Manhattan and its burbs created a vacuum pulling high-earners from cramped condos or small homes to land bigger, cheaper homes in the City of Brotherly Love. The trek on Amtrak to visit their Big Apple offices once or twice a week takes just 90 minutes or so. Providence, says Pinto, is superhot, thanks to the outflow from Boston. Newark and Asbury Park, N.J., are feasting from the stream of Manhattanites seeking great buys across the Hudson.

Where are mortgage rates heading?

The big question is whether increasing mortgage rates will flatten the HPA curve or send it downward. The 30-year benchmark has already vaulted from 2.65% in early January to 3.25%. Pinto believes that if rates reach 4%, national prices will keep rising in the high single digits. "It would take over 5% to end the party," he says. "We're nowhere near that now."

The spike in the 30-year, he says, will show no effect in April and May because those deals are already done. So for those months, prices should keep rising in the 13% to 14% range. But the higher rates will start to bite in late May and June. By then, appreciation should slow to 9% to 10%, says Pinto. "That's still a very fast pace, much faster than at any time in the last 10 years, except for the recent increase in rates," he adds.

But somewhat higher monthly payments, he says, won't undermine the fundamental shift that's lifting prices of the more expensive homes in highly affordable metros. "A 3.5% rate won't stop families from moving from San Jose to Phoenix, where they can get a lot more house for 30% less," he says. He compares a 1,400-square-foot home in San Jose that sold for $602,000 to a 2,200-square-foot abode in Sacramento at $430,000, and a bigger stucco model in Phoenix at $384,000. "Families that make that move get much more space, pay a lot less per month, and pocket the cash from selling their home in Northern California," he says.

For Pinto, it was the COVID lifestyle that turned a tremor, already building, into an earthquake. "In the past, it was as if California and New York were captive markets," he says. "If you worked there, you had to pay big to live there. Prices kept getting more unaffordable for 45 years in those expensive markets. The perception until recently was you had no choice but to live in San Jose, or San Francisco, or Seattle. But the pandemic broke the shackles. An exodus on this scale has never happened before. At the end of the day, the free market will prevail." It took decades to happen, but the pandemic unlocked the gates. The best bet is that the new incarnation of the Great Land Rush will keep running on strong legs.

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