The immediate impact of a rate hike on the Washington housing market is negligible, and unlikely to result in any noticeable differences. Yes, mortgage rates will start to tick up slightly. But even if they rise a full quarter of a percent in lockstep with the Fed’s increase, it doesn’t translate into much difference in a monthly payment for the majority of mortgages.
For example, if we use the round number of a $400,000 mortgage, at a 30-year fixed rate of 4 percent, which was the going rate at the end of 2015, the monthly payment is $1,910. If interest rates were to increase by a full quarter of a percent, the monthly payment becomes $1,968, only $58 more per month. This is unlikely to keep anyone from qualifying for a mortgage they would have originally received at the lower rate.
Volatility in the commodities markets, especially oil, and a stall in the growth of the Chinese economy could temper the Fed’s willingness to raise rates again. Conversely, this slight rate increase is a sign that further increases may occur as the year progresses. While everyone expects these further increases to be as incremental as the initial one in order to avoid any dramatic swings in the economy, it does mean that mortgage rates could make a steady march upward as we get closer to 2017.
I mentioned in my predictions for 2016 that a result of the rise in rates is that buyers may come out of the woodwork earlier than usual for this year’s spring selling season, in part so they can lock in a lower rate. I would now add to that the strong possibility that sellers may be more motivated to put their homes on the market, too.
If homeowners were already planning to sell this year, we could see them listing earlier in the year to take advantage of buyers who want to close quickly. We could also see more listings this year from sellers who were contemplating waiting until 2017 or later to put their homes on the market. Since mortgage rates could be a full percentage point (or more) higher a year from now, some sellers worry that sales prices won’t be as competitive if they wait that long.
Price depreciation isn’t a trend to worry about for the Washington market overall, but sellers with homes that are harder to sell, such as ones requiring extensive renovations or homes better suited as a non-primary residence (which usually come with higher interest rates), may want to take advantage now when buyers have more favorable interest rates.
As for the impact on prices, it’s likely that the rate of price appreciation will slow as interest rates rise. But demand in the Washington area has been high for so long that we are unlikely to experience any significant depreciation anytime soon.
The final piece of the puzzle is the increased attention from foreign investors. If interest rates are higher in the United States, the rate of people overseas investing in real estate trusts and securities almost always goes up. Anything connected to the nation’s capital always attracts a high level of attention since we have a relatively stable market. We should expect some increased interest from this sector here, too. This infusion of cash will slowly roll out, but will be a welcome boost to the market as more resources come into play.
The outlook for the Washington real estate market for 2016 is a positive one. Any consequences from the rate increase are going to be subtle at first. The initial impact will likely be positive since it could move the tentative buyers into action mode and the wait-and-see homeowners into selling mode. Outside of a possible uptick in activity, I don’t anticipate any other major developments this year as a result of new interest rates.
Catch up with some of David Charron’s previous columns: