Low interest rates could be the WORST thing to happen to the market

Yep. I know. It doesn’t make sense at first. How could these incredibly low interest rates possibly be a bad thing? They are a very good thing right now for people buying or refinancing their existing house. The problem is in the future.

Let’s take the average person who has probably refinanced their old mortgage recently. Let’s say they paid $160k for their 1700 square foot home in Masterson Station in 2013. They put 5% down on a conventional loan. Their interest rate was 3.875%, which seemed stupid low at the time since rates had been about 5% just a few years earlier. Their payment, excluding taxes, insurance and PMI, would have been about $714 a month. They decide they want to refi. Their house is now worth about $210k. They owe about $126k on their old mortgage. They get a 3% interest rate and now their payment is about $531. They are saving around $180 per month. They are happy.

Now lets look 5 years out from now. They want to move up to a $300k house. (Let’s keep the value of their current house and the one they want to buy based on today’s values since both should appreciate about the same….it just makes it easier for me to do the math!) They have close to $100k in equity, so they are effectively only going to finance an amount that is about equal to the value of their current house. This is really sounding good. But wait, maybe the interest rates are 5%? If so, their payment will more than double. That’s right. They have close to $100k down and are borrowing an amount equal to the current value of their existing home. Their new payment for principal and interest would be just over $1100 a month. People who need mortgages shop by their mortgage payment. They find out what they can afford per month and then figure out how much house it buys. These people won’t move. They will upgrade their existing house instead.

The same holds true for the people buying a house today. They won’t want to see their mortgage payment double if interest rates go up, so they will stay as long as they can stand it.

This is why, unless interest rates stay very low for a very long time, eventually there will be even fewer houses for sale. This will of course keep prices high since there will be less of a supply and demand will not decrease. We are not building enough new houses and the next generation of buyers will be bigger than previous generations.

So, what’s the take away here? If you can see yourself staying in your current house for 7-10 years, refi now. If you are a buyer, buy a house big enough to stay in for a long time. The last thing you want to do is outgrow your current house in 3-5 years and possibly not be able to afford a larger one.

When will there be more houses for sale?

The simplest answer to this is when sellers feel like moving…..so I guess it boils down to what will it take for that to happen?

Many people who have been in their houses for more than 5 years either got a super low interest rate or refinanced to get one.  It is hard to give up something like a 3.5% rate and buy your next house at the top of the market and do a 5% mortgage.  Right now, all that free equity from appreciation isn’t enough to make somebody want to give that up.

But, eventually there will be a tipping point.

Let’s say you bought a house 5 years ago for $200k.  You put down 5% and got a 3.5% rate for 30 years.  The principal and interest part of your loan is about $900 a month.  Flash forward to today.  The house is probably worth $240k.    You owe about $173k on it and have about $67k in equity.

You decide you want to buy a $300k house.  You finance about $235k after you get the equity out of your last house.  You get a 5% rate.  The principal and interest part of your loan is now $1200 a month.

Maybe you don’t want to spend $300 more each month?

What will it take to make you list your old house?

Maybe another $40k equity in your old house?  Assuming rates stay about the same and the price of the $300k house you want appreciates less than the $240k house you have, this $40k is what it will take to keep your payment about the same each month.  It will take about 3 years for that to happen between appreciation and what you are paying down each month in principal.

We all bemoan higher interest rates, but lets keep in mind that the reason we don’t like higher rates is because they make the mortgage payments higher.  People have a certain amount they can/will spend each month on housing.  People will always try to stuff as much house into that payment as they can.  I think the day sellers can move up to a nicer house and not pay that much more will be when we see more for sale signs in yards.