The housing market’s largest segment just tanked
September was the worst month for home sales in over a decade, as rising mortgage rates and elevated prices kept buyers at bay.
Existing home sales—which account for 88% of the housing market— fell 2% from August to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 3.96 million units, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR).
Compared to a year ago, sales were down a whopping 15.4%.
Like in previous months, slower sales didn’t translate into lower prices. The median sales price of an existing home in September was $394,300, up 2.8% from a year ago.
The NAR said you can thank low inventories for that. At the current sales pace, the U.S. only has 3.4 months of housing inventory left before no homes are left on the market.
“As has been the case throughout this year, limited inventory and low housing affordability continue to hamper home sales,” said NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun. “The Federal Reserve simply cannot keep raising interest rates in light of softening inflation and weakening job gains.”
Sales were down across most major regions, including the Midwest, South, and West. The Northeast bucked the trend, but this was largely due to very few houses being available for sale.
Just how bad is the market right now? For starters, the last time the numbers were this bad, America was recovering from a generational housing meltdown.
2010 vs. 2023: A somber perspective
The September sales pace was the slowest since October 2010, when there were 15 million fewer households in the U.S. During that time, the U.S. housing market was reeling from a foreclosure crisis following the bursting of the subprime mortgage bubble.
In October 2010, the average 30-year fixed rate mortgage was around 4.5%, according to Freddie Mac. Today, average mortgage rates are closer to 8% and rising fast.
The average resale value of a home in 2010 was $173,000, which is less than half the median sales price today.
But perhaps the most alarming data point of all is a comparison of the current year’s sales pace to 2010. NAR reported a total of 4.908 million existing home sales in all of 2010. Unless something changes fast, 2023 is on track to see roughly 4.1 million sales, according to Redfin.
That would mark the worst year since the depths of the subprime mortgage crisis in 2008.
Mortgage rates remain the key obstacle
While many buyers have been priced out of the market because of rising home prices, mortgage applications indicate that financing costs are proving to be the biggest obstacle.
Total mortgage application volumes fell by 6.9% last week and currently sit near 28-year lows, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.
That has to do with rising mortgage costs as well as unrelenting home prices, both of which have jacked up income requirements for homebuyers. In fact, the average income needed to afford a typical U.S. home has jumped by 15% to $114,627, based on Redfin's calculations.
Economists say the outlook could worsen as potential homebuyers hold out for lower interest rates.
“Although affordability is a headwind, the renewed upward energy that followed the Fed’s September projections might have prompted some shoppers to rush to the closing table, lest they face higher mortgage rates and even worse affordability in the months ahead," Realtor.com chief economist Danielle Hale told CNBC.
"If so, this could mean a bigger lull in sales activity in the coming months.”