When markets shift, who wins? Who loses?

Rates are on the rise making mortgage money a chunk more expensive. For example, a few months ago, the principal and interest payment on a $350K loan was $1452/mo at a rate of 2.875%. But today’s rates are hovering around 5.25% which pulls in a p&i of $1933/mo. This $481/mo shift will come as quite a surprise to consumers who have long gotten used to low, stable interest rates.

The rate increases are the result of efforts by the Federal Reserve to slow down inflation. As seen below, CPI has increased sharply in the last year and shows no signs of moderation.

Real estate makes up a portion of the index and traditionally an increase in the monthly cost of a mortgage will tamper demand. Although homes in top condition or in prime areas are still selling in multiple offers in our area, there is a sense that the hold-no-barred rush for housing is subsiding.

This makes buyers who are not knocked out of the market by the more ample payment one of the winners in the shift. Even if they pay about the same amount of money for a home, they are less like to give up other concessions such as a home inspection or a preferred closing date. Buyers who can no longer afford to buy are, for the time being, out of luck. New buyers, just getting approved, are held neutral by the rate shift. They have no relative comparison to other options; the new rates are simply what it costs to buy.

Sellers with mainstream acceptable homes are also held neutral in the shift. Plenty of buyers will still materialize for their homes, and although the escalating prices are falling away, the sellers will still secure a sale at today’s higher price point. Sellers of homes with a significant drawback- and these vary depending on the market- but things like shared driveways or proximity to freeways, these properties will struggle to attract a buyer. So, sellers of properties with more condition issues or physical drawbacks will lose in a quickly escalating rate environment.

Lenders are losers too. The past couple of years has been flush with refinancing. Higher rates dry that market up. Homeowners in need of cash with a mortgage at two and a half percent are going to look to other options rather than a refinance. Second mortgages have served this demand in the past. It’s the folks that must refinance to pay off an ex-spouse or consolidate higher-interest consumer debt who will lose out financially on higher rates.

First-time buyers who bought a few years ago should feel pretty good about their situation in hindsight. Since they bought, they have gained some nice equity and now they realize the benefit of a fixed payment at a low rate. While their friends in rentals experience periodic rent increases, the new homeowners have stabilized their monthly obligation. These are the examples that need to be talked up to give renters (who qualify) the confidence to become homeowners.

As a realtor, I look forward to a balanced market. Some consumers can act quickly and compete for properties. But many people need more time to think things through. A bit of a slow-down will bring a new set of buyers into the marketplace. And this is a good thing.