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Unemployment Report: No Need to Be Terrified

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Last Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released its latest jobs report. It revealed that the economic shutdown made necessary by COVID-19 caused the unemployment rate to jump to 14.7%. Many anticipate that next month the percentage could be even higher. These numbers represent the extreme hardship so many families are experiencing right now. That pain should not be understated.

However, the long-term toll the pandemic will cause should not be overstated either. There have been numerous headlines claiming the current disruption in the economy is akin to the Great Depression, and many of those articles are calling for total Armageddon. Some experts are stepping up to refute those claims.

In a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article this past weekend, Josh Zumbrun, a national economics correspondent for the Journal explained:

“News stories often describe the coronavirus-induced global economic downturn as the worst since the Great Depression…the comparison does more to terrify than clarify.”

Zumbrun goes on to explain:

“From 1929 to 1933, the economy shrank for 43 consecutive months, according to contemporaneous estimates. Unemployment climbed to nearly 25% before slowly beginning its descent, but it remained above 10% for an entire decade…This time, many economists believe a rebound could begin this year or early next year.”

Here is a graph comparing current unemployment numbers (actual and projected) to those during the Great Depression:Unemployment Report: No Need to Be Terrified | Simplifying The MarketClearly, the two unemployment situations do not compare.

What makes this time so different?

This was not a structural collapse of the economy, but instead a planned shutdown to help mitigate the virus. Once the virus is contained, the economy will immediately begin to recover. This is nothing like what happened in the 1930s. In the same WSJ article mentioned above, former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, who has done extensive research on the depression in the 1930s, explained:

“The breakdown of the financial system was a major reason for both the Great Depression and the 2007-09 recession.” He went on to say that today – “the banks are stronger and much better capitalized.”

What about the families and small businesses that are suffering right now?

The nation’s collective heart goes out to all. The BLS report, however, showed that ninety percent of the job losses are temporary. In addition, many are getting help surviving this pause in their employment status. During the Great Depression, there were no government-sponsored unemployment insurance or large government subsidies as there are this time.

Today, many families are receiving unemployment benefits and an additional $600 a week. The stimulus package is helping many companies weather the storm. Is there still pain? Of course. The assistance, however, is providing much relief until most can go back to work.

Bottom Line

We should look at the current situation for what it is – a predetermined pause placed on the economy. The country will recover once the pandemic ends. Comparisons to any other downturn make little sense. Bernanke put it best:

“I don’t find comparing the current downturn with the Great Depression to be very helpful. The expected duration is much less, and the causes are very different.”

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Affordability

Is It Getting More Affordable To Buy a Home?

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Over the past year or so, a lot of people have been talking about how tough it is to buy a home. And while there’s no arguing affordability is still tight, there are signs it’s starting to get a bit better and may improve even more throughout the year. Elijah de la Campa, Senior Economist at Redfin, says:

We’re slowly climbing our way out of an affordability hole, but we have a long way to go. Rates have come down from their peak and are expected to fall again by the end of the year, which should make homebuying a little more affordable and incentivize buyers to come off the sidelines.”

Here’s a look at the latest data for the three biggest factors that affect home affordability: mortgage rates, home prices, and wages.

1. Mortgage Rates

Mortgage rates have been volatile this year – bouncing around in the upper 6% to low 7% range. That’s still quite a bit higher than where they were a couple of years ago. But there is a sliver of good news.

Despite the recent volatility, rates are still lower than they were last fall when they reached nearly 8%. On top of that, most experts still think they’ll come down some over the course of the year. A recent article from Bright MLS explains:

Expect rates to come down in the second half of 2024 but remain above 6% this year. Even a modest drop in rates will bring both more buyers and more sellers into the market.” 

Any drop in rates can make a difference for you. When rates go down, you can afford the home you really want more easily because your monthly payment would be lower.

2. Home Prices

The second big factor to think about is home prices. Most experts project they’ll keep going up this year, but at a more normal pace. That’s because there are more homes on the market this year, but still not enough for everyone who wants to buy one. The graph below shows the latest 2024 home price forecasts from seven different organizations:

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These forecasts are actually good news for you because it means the prices aren’t likely to shoot up sky high like they did during the pandemic. That doesn’t mean they’re going to fall – they’ll just rise at a slower pace.

3. Wages

One factor helping affordability right now is the fact that wages are rising. The graph below uses data from the Federal Reserve to show how wages have been growing over time:

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Check out the blue dotted line. That shows how wages typically rise. If you look at the right side of the graph, you’ll see wages are climbing even faster than normal right now.

Here’s how this helps you. If your income has increased, it’s easier to afford a home because you don’t have to spend as big of a percentage of your paycheck on your monthly mortgage payment.

Bottom Line

If you stack these factors up, you’ll see mortgage rates are still projected to come down a bit later this year, home prices are going up at a more moderate pace, and wages are growing quicker than normal. Those trends are a good sign for your ability to afford a home.

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Buying Tips

Is It Better To Rent Than Buy a Home Right Now?

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You may have seen reports in the news recently saying it’s more affordable to rent right now than it is to buy a home. And while that may be true in some markets if you just look at typical monthly payments, there’s one thing that the numbers aren’t factoring in: and that’s home equity. Here’s a look at how big of an impact equity can have and why it’s worth considering as you make your decision.

What the Headlines Are Based on

The graph below uses national data on the median rental payment from Realtor.com and median mortgage payment from the National Association of Realtors (NAR) to compare the two options. As the graph shows, especially if you’re not looking for a lot of space, it can be more affordable on a monthly basis to rent:

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But if you’re looking for something with 2 bedrooms, the gap between the median rent and the median mortgage payment starts to shrink to a difference that may be more doable. The median monthly mortgage payment is $2,040. The median monthly rent for 2 bedrooms is $1,889. That’s a difference of about $151 a month. But here’s what happens when you factor in equity too.

How Equity Changes the Game

If you rent, your monthly rental payments only go toward covering your housing costs and your landlord’s expenses. So other than saving a bit more per month and maybe getting your rental deposit back when you move, the money you spent on housing each month is gone – forever.

When you buy, your monthly mortgage payment pays for your shelter, but it also acts as an investment. That investment grows in the form of equity as you make your mortgage payment each month and chip away at what you owe on your home loan. Your equity gets an extra boost as home values climb – which they typically do.

To give you a clearer idea of how equity can really stack up fast, here’s some data for you. Each quarter, Fannie Mae and Pulsenomics publish the results of the Home Price Expectations Survey (HPES). It asks more than 100 economists, real estate professionals, and investment and market strategists what they think will happen with home prices. In the latest release, those experts say home prices are going to keep going up over the next five years.

Here’s an example of how equity builds based on the projections from the HPES (see graph below):

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Imagine you purchased a home for $400,000 at the start of this year. Chances are, since you bought, you plan to stay put for a while. Based on the HPES projections, if you live there for 5 years, you could end up gaining over $83,000 in household wealth as your home grows in value.

Here’s how that stacks up compared to renting, using the overall median rent from above:

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While you may save a bit on your monthly payments if you rent right now, you’ll also miss out on gaining equity.

So, what’s the big takeaway? Whether it makes more sense to rent or buy is going to vary based on your personal finances. It’s not a good idea to buy if the numbers truly don’t work for you. But, if you’re ready and able, adding equity as the final puzzle piece may be enough to help you realize buying is a better move in the long run.

Bottom Line

When it comes down to it, buying a home gives you a benefit renting just can’t provide – and that’s the chance to gain equity. If you want to take advantage of long-term home price appreciation, talk to a local real estate agent to go over your options.

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Buying Tips

Ways To Use Your Tax Refund If You Want To Buy a Home

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Have you been saving up to buy a home this year? If so, you know there are a number of expenses involved – from your down payment to closing costs. But did you also know your tax refund can help you pay for some of these expenses? As Credit Karma explains:

“If one of your goals is to stop renting and buy a home, you’ll need to save up for closing costs and a down payment on the mortgage. A tax refund can give you a start on the road to homeownership. If you’ve already started to save, your tax refund could move you down the road faster.”

While how much money you may get in a tax refund is going to vary, it can be encouraging to have a general idea of what’s possible. Here’s what CNET has to say about the average increase people are seeing this year:

The average refund size is up by 6.1%, from $2,903 for 2023’s tax season through March 24, to $3,081 for this season through March 22.”

Sounds great, right? Remember, your number is going to be different. But if you do get a refund, here are a few examples of how you can use it when buying a home. According to Freddie Mac:

  • Saving for a down payment – One of the biggest barriers to homeownership is setting aside enough money for a down payment. You could reach your savings goal even faster by using your tax refund to help.
  • Paying for closing costs – Closing costs cover some of the payments you’ll make at closing. They’re generally between 2% and 5% of the total purchase price of the home. You could direct your tax refund toward these closing costs.
  • Lowering your mortgage rate – Your lender might give you the option to buy down your mortgage rate. If affordability is tight for you at today’s rates and home prices, this option may be worth exploring. If you qualify for this option, you could pay upfront to have a lower rate on your mortgage.

The best way to get ready to buy a home is to work with a team of trusted real estate professionals who understand the process and what you’ll need to do to be ready to buy.

Bottom Line

Your tax refund can help you reach your savings goal for buying a home. Connect with a local real estate professional about what you’re looking for, because your home may be more within reach than you think.

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The information contained, and the opinions expressed, in these article are not intended to be construed as investment advice. Let's Talk Real Estate and Keeping Current Matters, Inc. do not guarantee or warrant the accuracy or completeness of the information or opinions contained herein. Nothing herein should be construed as investment advice. You should always conduct your own research and due diligence and obtain professional advice before making any investment decision. Let's Talk Real Estate and Keeping Current Matters, Inc. will not be liable for any loss or damage caused by your reliance on the information or opinions contained herein.