This piece originally appeared in the January 2024 edition of MortgagePoint magazine, online now.
With a new year dawning, DSNews assembled a panel of expert economists to provide a forecast for what we can expect from the housing market in 2024, as well as diving into what surprised them about 2023. Will the Fed achieve the “soft landing” it’s been pursuing, or will wider global instabilities threaten the progress made on the inflation front? Will we finally see the “lock-in effect” fading enough for homeowners who’ve been huddled atop their low interest rates to finally sell, returning more inventory to the market?
Here’s what this expert panel of economists had to say.
Molly Boesel, Principal Economist, Office of the Chief Economist, CoreLogic
Molly Boesel is Principal Economist in the Office of the Chief Economist at CoreLogic. She is responsible for analyzing and forecasting housing and mortgage market trends. She has a depth of expertise in mortgage market analysis, model development, and risk analysis in the housing finance industry.
Boesel previously worked at both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. While at Fannie Mae, she provided Fannie Mae’s official monthly forecast for the economy, housing market, and mortgage market stocks and flows, and provided analyses on trends in the mortgage market, including characteristics of borrowers, homeowners, and mortgage products. She earned her bachelor’s degree in economics from James Madison University and a master’s degree in consumer economics and housing from Cornell University.
Q: What are the top factors you believe will define 2024’s housing marketplace?
Boesel: Inflation, interest rates, and the unlocking of some housing supply will also help with affordability. A shift in interest rates will help us get “unstuck,” and if rates could come down, we could have some refinancing. If inflation comes down, the Fed can stop raising rates, or ease them up a little bit sometime next year, and that will tell us what will happen with a recession.
Right now, I don’t know that many people are predicting a recession. If the economy does start to pick up … we could have some demand for the purchase market, and that would be great when the supply finally does ease up. What would be nice is to have those matched up at the same time instead of going off in different directions.
Some owners have been selling their homes at high prices in more expensive areas, so they can cash in on that. They can move to cheaper areas and use that cash for their new home. So, they don’t necessarily need to get a mortgage.
Q: What has been happening on the migration front this past year?
Boesel: You also have a portion of the population that does not have to return to an office. I don’t know what’s going to happen there, but you’ll see migration play out. If, on the other hand, you have a hybrid work situation where employees need to be near the office, some of these migration trends may slow down. CoreLogic has tracked some areas that have experienced migration trends, like Miami. It’s not inexpensive but compared to New York City, where you had a lot of work-from-home and satellite-office situations.
What we saw, at least at the beginning of 2023, was people leaving more expensive areas. Seattle experienced a lot of outbound migration, as did San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles, and San Diego, among others. Miami was a tricky area, but I’m looking to see some cheaper areas like Kansas City and Cincinnati—some of these smaller cities. A lot of companies who are renting space or even own office space are now asking their employees to come back.
Q: If we do get a soft economic landing and the economy picks back up and we have demand, when will that supply ease so that home sales will pick back up?
Boesel: So, what can we do about new home sales? Are they going to all be in the South or places with a lot of land? Or are they going to be in places that have zoning changes so that supply can pick up that way? There are a lot of unanswered questions.
Q: Are you seeing much impact on migration patterns or where people are choosing to retire as it relates to increased severe weather events?
Boesel: Florida remains one of the biggest migration areas in the U.S. It’s just cheaper to live there and it’s warm. I think retirees from the East Coast are always going to go to Florida, and from the West Coast, they are going to go to Nevada and Arizona. It’s better for them to go where they are going to have enough services.
There have long been predictions of what they call “the Silver Tsunami.” Not everyone is going to retire at the same time, right? It’s going to happen when the time is right for them, so it’s going to be a slow trickle of retirees.
Q: Are there any trends that have surprised you or that you’re fascinated by that don’t get covered as much as you think they should?
Boesel: Investor purchases are still a big thing. When interest rates went up, we thought maybe they would slow down. They did a little bit, and then I think the investors just found another financing source. They just continue to purchase a lot of homes.
Rents are going up, so if you can buy an investment home, you will get a lot of return on that because rents remain high.
Q: Do you see any fluctuations on the rent front coming, or will that remain high and keep creeping up?
Boesel: Just creeping up. Rents are increasing now, maybe 3%-4%, a little higher in some places, down a tiny bit in some other places. Rents are going to remain elevated—there is no way rents are coming back down to where they were a few years ago.
Jacob Channel, Senior Economist, LendingTree
Jacob Channel is Senior Economist for LendingTree, where he conducts studies on a wide variety of subjects related to the U.S. housing market and provides general macroeconomic analysis. Channel joined LendingTree in 2018 as an Intern before moving into his current position as Senior Economist.
His work has been featured in major publications, including the New York Times, Bloomberg, Forbes, and CNBC. He has appeared as a guest on Cheddar TV and Yahoo Finance.
Q: What are the primary factors you believe will define the 2024 housing market?
Channel: Let me preface this by saying that the things I came up with are all very interconnected. The big themes are rates, inflation, and recession—or, more specifically, a lack of a recession, just so I don’t make anyone panic prematurely.
Q: What do you anticipate on the rates front?
Channel: Obviously, rates matter a lot, not just in terms of mortgages, but in terms of anything that you are borrowing. As for when the Fed will cut rates—I think some people are maybe a little too optimistic. I know some people feel there may be six rate cuts in 2024, and that cuts are going to start immediately. I’m not sure I agree with that. I think that if the Fed does cut rates, it probably won’t happen until the latter half of 2024. This is relevant to mortgage rates because, as we know, while the Fed doesn’t directly set mortgage rates, they do influence them.
With that in mind, if nothing else, a lack of further increases from the Fed should help the bond market continue to calm down. The bond market has been crazy over the past few months, but it’s calmed recently, and that has put downward pressure on mortgage rates.
If nothing else, I anticipate that mortgage rates will stabilize and stop rising in 2024, and I do think that there is a good chance that by the end of next year—assuming a meteor doesn’t hit Manhattan—mortgage rates will probably be closer to the 6.5%-6% range than where they’re currently at. I don’t think that lower rates are necessarily guaranteed, but I think, broadly speaking, the rate picture in 2024 will probably be better than the rate picture in 2023.
Another very important caveat: even if the overall rate picture is better than 2022 or 2023, that doesn’t mean that it’s going to be as nice as it was in 2020 or 2021 when rates were at or near record lows. I do think that lower rates will make the housing market a bit friendlier for not just buyers but sellers as well. Most who own their home right now have a rate under 5%, and while it’s not ideal to sell your house and move from a 5% rate to a 6.5% rate, it’s certainly a much easier pill to swallow, if you have to, than moving from a 5% rate to an 8% rate, which you might have had to do had you sold in 2023.
Overall, I think there will be improvements in the overall housing market, but because rates are not going to return to record lows, housing will still be expensive owing to relatively high, albeit lower, rates.
Q: Is there anything you could foresee that could change that forecast on rates significantly?
Channel: I can think of a few things that may change my forecast. Generally, it’s probably the broader stuff. For example, more likely than a meteor crashing in Manhattan, an escalation of conflicts in the Middle East could potentially drive gas and oil prices up and put upward pressure on inflation. Maybe if inflation does start to rise more consistently over the coming months, the Fed will change its tune about upcoming cuts, markets will generally be a little bit more fearful about what the future holds, and that could continue to put upward pressure on mortgage rates.
The other big thing to keep in mind, too, is that mortgage rates, especially if you are looking at them on a week-to-week basis, are volatile, and they have been that way for a while now. It’s worth pointing out that rates have also been more extreme in their movements than people might have initially anticipated at the start of 2022, for example.
I still think that the overall rate picture will be a little bit nicer in 2024. However, I wouldn’t bet the farm that mortgage rates are necessarily going to rise or fall all that dramatically over the next 12 months. Instead of making bets, you’ve got to be willing to ride waves as they come and go with the flow.
Q: What are you foreseeing in 2024 in terms of inflation?
Channel: The good news is that inflation should continue to cool down. Now, cooling inflation does not necessarily mean that prices will drop. When we talk about inflation in this context, we’re saying the growth rate of inflation is getting smaller and smaller, which is a good thing. However, cooling inflation growth is not the same thing as deflation, or prices outright falling.
People might think, “Oh, that sounds nice, prices will go down,” but deflation usually brings with it a lot of problems on its own, and that’s another rant for another day.
I do think that inflation growth will continue to moderate over the coming months. It’s been doing better over the past several months, which is a big reason why the Fed has not announced a rate hike since last summer.
I don’t think inflation is going to go back down to the Fed’s target, which is 2% annual growth. That said, I think we could maybe end up with somewhere closer to 2.5% annual growth, which is better than the between 3%-4% growth that we saw in most of 2023, and much better than what we saw in 2022.
Cooling inflation growth is a big reason why rates are less likely to increase in 2024. Generally, the lower inflation is, the less likely we are to see rate hikes, be those rate hikes directly from the Fed or mortgage rate hikes, which are rooted in other factors like what’s happening in the bond market.
Q: I presume from your comments that you’re not anticipating a recession in 2024.
Channel: That’s right. People have been talking about a recession forever.
A recession is one of those things where there is not a universally accepted definition. Generally, when we talk about recession, we mean two or more consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth. That’s not necessarily the only definition, nor is it necessarily the best definition.
Regardless, from where I’m sitting, the economy has been remarkably resilient despite tons of headwinds, from higher rates to persistently high inflation, to rising consumer debt. You can’t deny that all of those things are problems, but the economy keeps chugging along. Just look at the GDP figures from Q3 2023, the latest revised estimate showed a very strong 4.9% growth.
On top of that, if you dig into how people are handling the economy, in a lot of ways, people generally seem to be doing okay. It’s one of those things where if you ask people, “How’s the economy doing?” most of them will say, “It’s doing bad.” But then if you ask them, “Well, how are your finances doing?” most people say, “Oh, they’re actually doing really well.” That doesn’t mean that everything is going amazingly well for everyone—serious problems do exist—but it does suggest that we’re probably not on the precipice of some major economic collapse.
So, there is a disconnect between what people think is happening and what is going on, and based on that, based on how resilient the economy has been, I do think that we’ll see that “soft landing” that we’ve been talking about, and I think we will skip a recession this year. Even if we do have one, it will be mild, and that means the unemployment rate will remain low—it was around 3.7% to finish out 2023. It might rise a little bit, but even if it rises to 4.2%, that’s very low from a historical standpoint.
Most people will keep their jobs, and most will continue to see wage increases, and if there’s no recession, if nothing else, it just makes it easier for people to feel more comfortable buying or selling a house. It also probably means that it will be easier for mortgage lenders to say, “Yeah, I’m okay with issuing a loan.” It’s harder to get a loan when the economy is on fire than when everything seems like it’s doing okay, even if it’s not ideal.
Q: If I had asked you at this time last year, what do you think you would have predicted to be the defining housing market factors of last year?
Channel: They probably would have been similar, just because we have been talking about this stuff for so long. For example, rates are evergreen. If you ever ask somebody, “What’s a big driver of the housing market?” mortgage rates are always going to be at the top of the list unless you live in some crazy all-cash market. I think going into 2023, I might’ve been a little bit more inclined to say that home prices would move more than they did.
If 2023 proved anything it’s that even in the face of 20-something-year low mortgage demand, home prices can stay steep.
I would also have been talking about inflation last year, although my take on it might have been a bit less rosy. Coming into 2023 from 2022, the picture for inflation seemed worse. There was a lot more concern about whether the Fed rate increases were helping as much as they could. “How much longer do we have to put up with this?” was a common question. Fortunately, because inflation has cooled noticeably this year, the answer might end up being “not as long as we initially feared.”
Q: Are there any stories happening in the economy or housing market that you find fascinating but that may be overlooked?
Channel: I already touched on it, but the idea is that wages are indeed growing. There is a disconnect between how people view their finances versus how they view the finances of the nation. That is often lost in the conversation. I am guilty of it too, and I think we all are. We focus on the negatives because the negatives are scary, and it is like an elephant in the room—you are going to talk about the elephant, even if the elephant is just chilling in the corner and not doing anything.
If you look at things like mortgage delinquency rates, they are currently extremely low. Delinquency rates on other types of debts are increasing, but they are not as high as they were before the Great Recession.
At the end of the day, no matter how good the economy looks at the macro level, people will struggle at the micro level, but broadly things still seem like they are going okay.
Daryl Fairweather, Chief Economist, Redfin
Daryl Fairweather is the Chief Economist for Redfin. Her insights have been featured on 60 Minutes, CBS Evening News, and in the New York Times and Washington Post.
Before joining Redfin, she was a Senior Economist at Amazon, working on problems related to employee engagement and managing a team of analysts. During the housing crisis, she worked as a researcher at the Boston Fed studying why homeowners entered foreclosure. She received her Bachelor of Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and received her Ph.D. and master’s degree in economics from the University of Chicago, where she specialized in behavioral economics.
Q: What are the factors you believe will define the housing market in 2024?
Fairweather: I am going to take a step back from rates and say inflation because that is what is driving rates right now. However, I don’t think there is any reason inflation would heat up again. As inflation slows, that will allow for rates to come down more than they are right now. It seems like the market is optimistic too, so we would need inflation to come down even more than the market is expecting for rates to also come down.
The productivity of workers has been improving, and maybe it will continue to improve because of advances in things like AI and remote work. I believe that’s the reason why GDP is growing without inflation becoming more problematic.
It’s because the actual capacity of the economy seems to be increasing, which is ideal. That may allow the GDP to grow without inflation, and without the Federal Reserve needing to intervene with higher rates. That would give us a strong economy and a strong housing market, and I feel like that’s a best-case scenario. I’m in an optimistic mood right now.
Q: What if things go in a more negative direction?
Fairweather: During the pandemic, we had a bunch of challenges with supply chains. We’ve had international wars. Anything that makes things more expensive or makes it harder to operate in this economy could contribute to inflation in a way that the Fed doesn’t have good tools for and could lead to lower GDP growth and higher inflation.
For a second high-level factor, I would say new listings of existing homes, specifically, and looking at the mortgage rate lock-in effect. It seems to have been holding back the housing market these past two years. People can only put off selling a home for so long, so I think we’ll get more inventory next year, but how much is an open question.
Q: Do you see factors on the horizon that you think will finally break that stalemate and encourage people to sell their homes again?
Fairweather: Rates coming down helps because that narrows the gap between people’s current mortgages and their next mortgage, but that gap is going to be there no matter what. It’s not coming back down to 3%. The other thing is just time. People can only hold out for so long.
Some people have paid a lot of their mortgage off, or all their mortgage off, where this doesn’t affect them, so I think we may see some release there on listings.
Q: Are you seeing any movement in older Americans who, even before all the rate shifts, were choosing to age in place rather than downsize and return their homes to the marketplace?
Fairweather: Redfin reported on how long people stay in their homes, and it went down a little during the pandemic boom when mortgage rates we so low and everybody was buying houses.
Because there were so many new homes being purchased, that meant that tenure went down. I think it was a temporary effect. In general, people are continuing to remain in their homes for a long time, and I think that’s probably going to persist because tax and mortgage structures encourage people to stay put. I don’t see that changing next year.
Q: Do you see any other factors that could help break the logjam of insufficient housing inventory, especially affordable housing or for entry-level buyers?
Fairweather: I think we’re going to get a little bit of a release, like a slight change in new listings next year, for the reasons I discussed. But for any major change, we need new construction. We did have a boom in new construction last year, but it wasn’t enough to move the needle on overall inventory. And most of that construction was larger homes, like those big single-family homes. That can help because people upgrade from their starter homes into bigger homes, which releases inventory at the bottom.
The economics don’t work to build new $200,000 single-family homes. You can’t do it, so we need to just build whatever we can build, and then that inventory will age and become more affordable, but it just takes a long time.
Finally, I would say the health of the economy in general [will be a defining factor.] If there’s a recession, that is a wild card that could change the direction of the economy. I know the Fed is poised to pull off a soft landing, so I think it’s unlikely that we will enter a recession. But if we do go into a recession, all bets are off the table because mortgage rates could drop precipitously and super-charge the housing market.
Last year we hoped rates would drop, but instead, they went up. We’ve seen rates come down recently, but they are still higher than they were last year.
Last year, I thought it was a foregone conclusion that rates would come down, but they went up before they went down. You never really know what’s going to happen with rates, because you never really know what’s going to happen with the global macroeconomy.
Q: Are there any stories happening within the economy that you find fascinating but think are underreported?
Fairweather: I think it’s underappreciated that rents have stabilized. They even went down this last month. I would expect some of the people who are buying homes to have moved into the rental market and pushed up rent, but I think what happened instead was that people downsized overall: they got roommates. Instead of household formation, we had the reverse of households consolidating, so the demand for housing overall went down, which allowed rents to fall. Next year, rents may be due for an increase to correct for that because you normally don’t see these big gaps between rental and housing affordability. They tend to converge over time.
I love talking about how land value taxes are superior to property taxes. There is hope that there’ll be some legislation on that in Detroit and Minnesota to phase away from property taxes and into land value taxes, which are better for affordable housing. It encourages development instead of discouraging it. It takes away some of the rent-seeking that you see, especially in places like Detroit with people holding vacant properties and hoping that the value will go up one day. It would be a great piece of progress if we see that pass in Detroit.
Property taxes discourage development because if you turn the single-family home into a department building, you are taxed at that apartment building’s new value, whereas land value taxes are only based on the land. So, it encourages people to make the best use of their land instead of encouraging them to leave land vacant or to keep it undeveloped.
More broadly, it’s a great tax because land is immutable. It’s always there, it doesn’t distort the economy. When you tax income, it discourages work. When you tax consumption, it discourages people from spending money. When you tax capital gains, it discourages investment.
The land value tax doesn’t discourage anything because the land will be there, no matter what, so it’s a much more efficient tax.
Greg McBride, SVP, Chief Financial Analyst, Bankrate.com
Greg McBride, CFA, is the Chief Financial Analyst for Bankrate.com, leading a team responsible for researching financial products and providing analysis and advice on personal finance to a vast consumer audience.
Q: What are the primary factors you expect to define the 2024 housing economy?
McBride: I’d say affordability, inventory, and rates. There’s better news on rates, which we can get to in a second, but from an affordability standpoint, I don’t expect that we’re going to see meaningful improvement on this front.
It’s going to continue to be a challenge. Even if rates come down, home prices are still high, and the faster the rates come down, the more likely home prices are to appreciate at a faster rate.
On the inventory side, which I think feeds into that affordability issue, the limited inventory, I expect we’ll see some improvement but not enough to alleviate those affordability issues. The new construction coming online will help some.
I also think as mortgage rates move lower, we’ll see some more existing-home inventory come onto the market, but I don’t expect that we’re going to see a surge in inventory.
There’s some good news in that mortgage rates that had peaked at 8% in October came down meaningfully in the fourth quarter, finishing the year below the 7% mark. I think that the downtrend will continue throughout 2024. It’ll be a bumpy ride. It’ll have some fits and starts, but generally, we’ll see mortgage rates in the sixes for much of the year. I do expect they’ll get below the 6% mark in the latter portion of the year, finishing around 5.75% for a 30-year fixed mortgage.
Q: Do you anticipate any large-scale relief on the affordability front?
McBride: It’s going to take time. There’s no magic wand here, and so if we get a period of years where home prices don’t appreciate all that much—not necessarily stagnating, but if we saw appreciation that was in line with the rate of inflation, 2% to 3% a year, that gives incomes some time to catch up. Wage growth runs faster than that, so it helps close that gap. We saw outsized appreciation from 2020 until the midpoint of 2022, and that pulled forward appreciation from future years and packed it into about 24 months. Home prices ran well ahead of incomes, and it’ll take a prolonged period of more tepid appreciation for incomes to close that gap.
My advice to individual homeowners on that subject is to take another year or two to stabilize your financial foundation and invest in your career—those are the things that could make homeownership much more tenable 18 or 24 months from now. Then you’re buying essentially the same house only there’s a lot more breathing room in the budget as opposed to it being a real stretch at this point.
Q: What are you seeing as far as the interplay between home prices, rent prices, and general housing affordability?
McBride: Rents are high, but they’re stabilizing. They’re not continuing to go up. I think that is indicative of, or maybe a precursor to, what we will likely see going forward regarding homeownership costs in general: home prices and the cost of ownership. If mortgage rates ease, suddenly that cost of ownership isn’t going up as it has for the past few years. There does appear to be more building in the multifamily segment that could help the inventory picture in the near term—over the course of this year, certainly.
We tend to think of this inventory issue in the context of what’s happened since the pandemic. But the reality is, even leading up to the pandemic, we had more than a decade of underbuilding in the aftermath of the financial crisis, so inventory was low even before the pandemic. Even amidst the longest economic expansion in history, inventory was low in 2018 and 2019, and it just managed to get worse as prices went up and as so many people refinanced with that ultra-low mortgage rate. That accentuated what was already a problem. It’s a problem 15 years in the making.
Q: What are the factors preventing us from building sufficiently to keep up with demand, and how are they changing?
McBride: Right now, one of the impediments is that the cost of capital is very high. That’s by design. Interest rates have gone up dramatically to cool inflation. Rates aren’t going to stay at these levels unless inflation flatlines and doesn’t come down closer to the target.
The cost of labor is going to stay high.
I don’t have a good read on the zoning thing, but I know people in real estate or the mortgage business who repeatedly point to examples in their locale about how zoning restrictions have had an impact. So again, I don’t know how that gets fixed overnight.
Q: Are you seeing significant changes related to migration?
McBride: Certain markets were red-hot during the pandemic—Austin, Boise, and Phoenix—and those markets have certainly come off the boil. But you are continuing to see migration, particularly among upper-income taxpayers, toward lower-tax locales. Again, I don’t know that that’s necessarily a flash in the pan.
Q: Where do you fall on the prospect of us experiencing or avoiding a recession?
McBride: I do see a soft landing materializing. My forecast is with that as the backdrop. It’s a rare instance. Arguably, the Fed only pulled this off once before, back in 1995, so history has not been on their side when it comes to this.
The odds of that soft landing have certainly improved in recent months. We at Bankrate survey top economists every quarter. They are now putting the odds of a recession in the next 12 months at 45%. That’s down from 65% a year ago, so we’re seeing meaningful change there.
So yes, I see the soft landing materializing, and I’m certainly not alone in that feeling, but there are plenty of X factors that could derail that. Inflation could remain stubbornly high or, even worse, you could see a pickup in inflation again.
That would certainly derail the expectations economically and for rates. There are still a lot of unknowns about just how deep the problems are with commercial real estate and what, if any, systemic impact that might have.
That is a big wild card and could be systemically disruptive. We’ve seen interest rates go up at the fastest pace in 40 years, and there are still plenty of X factors out there. So, another shoe could drop, and we could, despite expectations, find ourselves in a recession. And then there’s also the stuff we just never see coming. There’s no shortage of X factors. There never is.
Q: You mentioned that the Fed has historically struggled to secure these soft landings. What made this situation different?
McBride: Studies will be done and books will be written for the next decade theorizing about that. One thing that has come to the forefront is that perhaps the economy is less sensitive to short-term interest rates than it has been in previous decades. I mentioned the tendency for homeowners to have refinanced in large numbers at very low mortgage rates.
That insulated millions of homeowners from seeing an escalation in their payments. So, when interest rates went up, it didn’t hit large swaths of homeowners. So, maybe there’s less impact on the consumer and the overall economy because of the increased preponderance of fixed-rate mortgage debt. The other part of it is the Fed, although they were late to acknowledge inflation and late to do anything about it, they did have the benefit of hindsight and looking at the mistakes previous Fed committees had made regarding interest rates and inflation. They have been deliberate about trying not to repeat those missteps. It’s too early for a victory lap, but if the soft landing materializes, I think that there’s certainly an element of that that would be a factor.
A year ago, I was in the camp that expected a recession before the end of the year. In accordance with that, I expected mortgage rates were going to fall very sharply in the second half of 2023, even much more than what we had seen in the fourth quarter. As a result, my prediction on rates for 2023 wildly missed the mark.
I’m happy to be wrong. The economy held up much better. We didn’t have a recession. The economy continued to grow at a robust pace. The labor market remained very strong. We still have some of the lowest unemployment rates in more than 50 years, and there are 1.4 jobs open for every unemployed worker.
The economy held up very, very well, and as a result, we didn’t see a sharp decline in mortgage rates. I didn’t see mortgage rates going as high as they did, and I had them coming down a lot more because of the expectation of a recession.
When that didn’t materialize and inflation remained in the crosshairs throughout the year, that meant mortgage rates ended up being a lot higher in 2023 than I initially forecasted.