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COVID-19 and the Real Estate Market

May 6, 2020 | Market Commentary

The Coronavirus is affecting our lives in many different ways. Eating in with carryout and delivery instead of reservations at restaurants and bars, Zoom meetings and teleconferences instead of office meetings, waves instead of handshakes and hugs; the world is a different place than it was two months ago.

More of the Same….and Then It Wasn’t

The beginning of 2020 looked quite similar to the start of the last few years in the housing market. Then, as we know, everything changed in March with COVID-19. We are now left with many more questions than answers. Mortgage rates have fallen to even lower levels as the Fed is desperately trying to help the economy. This, in turn, created a glut of refinancing applications for mortgage lenders. However, the negative economic impact of COVID-19 is far reaching, creating tremendous liquidity problems within the banking system. It is difficult to close on a mortgage refinance when the money to pay off the existing mortgage is in limbo, or lock a rate on a mortgage application when the lender has no idea how long it will take to get to a closing table. Delinquencies on existing mortgages will certainly increase as homeowners deal with an uncertain job market, leading one of the country’s largest mortgage lenders, JPMorgan Chase, to change their lending guidelines in recent weeks.

Uncertainty Abounds 

The economy is in a very different place as well. Strong earnings reports and record low employment numbers have been replaced with the utmost of uncertainty. Almost every aspect of the economy is dealing with some level of ambiguity, with the housing market taking center stage. The housing market over the past decade has been, for the most part, quite strong. This has been fostered by low interest rates, ample cash liquidity, and friendly lending guidelines. This, however, has led to the issue of low inventory and excess demand for the last few years. While this has been positive for house prices and mortgage applications, it has created an imbalance. Builders are trying to take up the slack by fast-tracking new home construction, and anyone remotely interested in selling a home has been enticed with the idea of completing offers to purchase within days, instead weeks or months.

Housing Recession Imminent?

With all of this said, it would be easy to assume that the housing market is headed for a recession of its own, but I wouldn’t be so quick to come to that conclusion. This is one of the more resilient components of the overall economy. People need to buy and sell houses every day, regardless of what is happening in the rest of the economy. We will likely have a low interest rate environment for the foreseeable future, which should keep the market somewhat stimulated. 

What To Do?

What should you do if you are in the process of a refinance or house sale/purchase? First things first…don’t panic! Nothing good will come with trying to force the process to go faster or demanding that things happen. The task at hand will require more patience and understanding than in previous years. The refinancing timeline has shifted to a couple of months versus a couple of weeks. Locking rates will almost certainly become more difficult than it was before, and underwriting guidelines are changing. My recommendation would be to work with a mortgage lender who is in touch with the current protocol and can guide you through the process. You need to be working with a lender who provides specific advice and has a strategy for operating in this environment. This, in my opinion, isn’t the time for the internet lender who is offering a teaser rate of slightly below the market rate. This is a time for trusted advisors. If you need a recommendation, please let us know and we would be happy to provide you with the contact information of different lenders.

Nate Condon