Why are there few homes to purchase in the United States? Here are several reasons:
One reason inventory is so low nationally is that many homeowners were able to lock in record low interest rates in 2020 and 2021. Mortgage rates have skyrocketed since then—the rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage reached 6.7% on March 9, nearly double that of a year ago, according to Freddie Mac. That means that homeowners who bought or refinanced with low interest rates are reluctant to sell their homes and buy another with a mortgage with a much higher interest rate.
The low inventory makes house hunting an even more painful and emotionally charged process than usual, because buyers are finding that there just aren’t that many options. They have to choose between paying a high price for the inventory that is available, or waiting—potentially for a long time.
There are factors at play that make some markets especially brutal. In January, according to Redfin, the places out of the top 100 most-populated metro areas in the country with the lowest inventory were Rochester, N.Y. (1.2 months’ supply); Buffalo, N.Y. (1.4 months’); and Allentown, Penn. (1.5 months’). Rounding out the top ten were Grand Rapids, Mich.; Worcester, Mass.; Greensboro, N.C.; Hartford; Boston; and Montgomery County, Penn…
One other reason that there’s low inventory? The influx of investors who have bought properties, including single-family homes, to rent. Investors bought 24% of all single-family homes in 2021, up from around 15-16% each year going back to 2012, according to a Pew Stateline analysis.
Add to this that many places in the United States are short units of affordable housing.
I have not seen many hints that this is a short-term problem or one that will be addressed soon. The mortgage rate issue will take time to see through. The housing crunch in particular markets may require hyperlocal policies as well as changing national conditions. Investors will continue to act in the market. The construction that is taking place is often aimed at higher ends of the market.
What I am still surprised at: how come no national politician is making this a centerpiece of a campaign? Imagine a politician promoting homeownership opportunities, new housing starts, seeking ways to boost construction, and wanting to help people achieve the American Dream. This could appeal to both sides of the aisle. This would not necessarily require major changes to national policy beyond a consistent message, helpful incentives, and a desire to help address the foundational issue of housing that many face.