With mortgage rates on the decline and home prices appreciating at a slower pace, REALTORS® reported that homebuying traffic increased in February 2019 compared to one year ago, according to NAR’s February 2019 REALTORS® Confidence Index Survey.
The REALTORS® Buyer Traffic Index increased to 55 in February 2019 from 52 in January 2019. The REALTORS® Buyer Traffic Index leads existing home sales by two months, so the uptick in February indicates a pickup in sales in April. The REALTORS® Buyer Traffic Index fell below 50 during October–December 2018 as the 30-year fixed mortgage rate rose near five percent but the index has been trending up with mortgage rates on the decline, with the 30-year fixed mortgage rate now at 4.06 percent as of the week of March 28.
Buyer traffic conditions were stable or improved in 39 states during the 3-month period of December 2018-February 2019 compared to the same period one year ago. However, buyer traffic weakened in the District of Columbia and in the rest of the states. Many respondents from California, Connecticut, Illinois, and Nebraska reported that the high property taxes—either due to high tax rates or high prices— have negatively affected sales. Respondents from California also reported the lingering effects of the California wildfires on the supply of and demand for homes.
Due to the combination of falling home prices and mortgage rates, the income needed to make an affordable mortgage payment (mortgage no more than 25 percent of income) on a median-priced home with 10 percent down payment and 30-year fixed rate mortgage decreased from $60,425 in June 2018 to $53,783 as of February 2019, and the difference of $6,642 represents a gain in buying power because one can afford a home purchase at a lower level of income.
In terms of the monthly mortgage, the mortgage payment arising on a median-priced home at 10 percent down payment has fallen from $1,259 in June 2018 to $1,120 as of February 2019, a savings of $138 per month, or $49,680 over a 30-year period.
As of the week of March 28, the average 30-year fixed mortgage rate stood at 4.06 percent from a high of 4.94 in the weeks of November 8 and 15. Mortgage rates have trended downwards given the March 2019 announcement of the Fed to be “patient” with increasing the benchmark federal funds rate and to end its balance sheet reduction (monetary tightening) by September 2019, leaving at least $3.5 trillion in Treasury and mortgage backed securities. Market analysts are reading this policy stance to mean no interest rate increases in 2019 (given the latest economic data) and a 25 basis point rate increase in 2020.
In a monthly survey of REALTORS®, NAR asks respondents “Compared to the same month (January) last year, how would you rate the past month’s traffic in neighborhood(s) or area(s) where you make most of your sales?” NAR compiles the responses into an index, where an index above 50 indicates that more respondents reported “stronger” traffic than “weaker” traffic. In generating the buyer traffic index at the state level, NAR uses data for the last three surveys to have close to 30 observations. Small states such as AK, ND, SD, MT, VT, WY, WV, DE, and D.C., may have fewer than 30 observations. The index is not seasonally adjusted, so a year-over-year comparison is appropriate.
 Freddie Mac’s survey of 30-year fixed rate mortgages
 Federal Reserve issues FOMC Statement, March 20, 2019; see https://www.federalreserve.gov/newsevents/pressreleases/monetary20190320a.htm
 Balance Sheet Normalization Principles and Plans; see https://www.federalreserve.gov/newsevents/pressreleases/monetary20190320c.htm
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