The housing market has been on fire this year with record-low mortgage rates and a sudden wave of relocations made possible by remote work. Home prices have continued to push new boundaries as buyer demand continues to surge. As we near the end of 2020, here’s a look at the expectations of real estate experts for 2021.
Danielle Hale, realtor.com chief economist: We expect sales to grow 7 percent and prices to rise another 5.7 percent on top of 2020’s already high levels. While we expect mortgage rates to tick up gradually, sales and price growth will be propelled by still strong demand, a recovering economy, and still low mortgage rates. High buyer demand and still-lagging supply will keep prices growing, but at a slower pace than 2020 as buyers contend with mortgage rate and price increases that create affordability challenges.
While younger Millennial and Gen-Z buyers are expected to play a growing role in the housing market, fast-rising prices will create a bigger barrier to entry for the many first-time buyers in these generations who don’t have existing home equity to tap for down payment savings. Although supply is expected to lag, we do expect the declines to slow and potentially stop by the end of the year as sellers grow more comfortable with the market environment and new construction picks up. Single-family housing starts are expected to grow another 9 percent in 2021. On the whole, the market will remain seller-friendly, but buyers will still have relatively low mortgage rates and an eventually improving selection of homes for sale.
Robert Dietz, senior vice president and chief economist, National Association of Home Builders: With home builder confidence near record highs, we expect continued gains for single-family construction, albeit at a lower growth rate than in 2019. Some slowing of new home sales growth will occur due to the fact that a growing share of sales has come from homes that have not started construction. Nonetheless, buyer traffic will remain strong given favorable demographics, a shifting geography of housing demand to lower-density markets and historically low interest rates.
But supply-side headwinds will persist. Residential construction continues to face limiting factors, including higher costs and longer delivery times for building materials, an ongoing labor skills shortage, and concerns over regulatory cost burdens. For apartment construction, we will see some weakness for multifamily rental development particularly in high-density markets, while remodeling demand should remain strong and expand further.
Elana Knoller, Better.com chief product officer: Homeowners and the housing industry at-large will utilize technology even more next year to engage buyers and execute deals. 2020 changed the game in everything from touring properties to looking for and locking rates, and participating in secure e-closings.
We expect homeowners looking to refinance will do so sooner rather than later to take advantage of the low interest rate environment. While the Fed has indicated it doesn’t plan to hike rates soon, uncertainty over what the new administration might do in addition to broad availability of a Covid-19 vaccine, on top of what we hope is an improving economy, could bring an end to the ultra-low rates that we’ve seen this year. We will continue to see the growth of Millennial home buying regardless of the rate backdrop.
Todd Teta, chief product officer at ATTOM Data Solutions: We’re exiting 2020 with a number of dynamics that will more than likely keep this crazy housing market going. There is incredibly low inventory, with less than 500,000 homes for sale, mortgage rates are at 50-year lows, and there’s no sign yet of distressed sellers from the recession coming out. These supply and demand factors will push prices even higher in the first half of the year. Inventory and pricing should ease a bit in the second half of the year, and larger economic headwinds could start showing up. Until then, buyers should be cautious and sellers jubilant.
Selma Hepp, CoreLogic deputy chief economist: While the exploding Covid-19 infection rates suggest weighty economic uncertainty remains, housing markets continue to receive positive tailwinds, including the largest cohort of Millennials, age 28 to 30, are coming closer to the typical first-time, home-buying age. Additionally, mortgage rates are expected to remain at or below 3% into 2021. These two factors will bolster the home-buying market and continue propping up home price growth. The national Case-Shiller Index surged 6.95% in September, reaching yet another new high and advancing at the fastest rate since May 2014.
Amy Kong, president of the Asian American Real Estate Association of America: Asian American households saw the biggest income growth of any racial or ethnic group in the United States over the past decade and a half — almost 8% compared to a 2.3% national average. Education certainly is a major contributor to this growth with more than 54% of Asian Americans having a bachelor’s degree compared to the national average of 32%. With this income growth and low interest rates, we project a continued increase in homeownership rates within our community across non-traditional markets, particularly in the Southwest and Southeast region of the country. States like North Carolina, Alabama and Texas are seeing an increase in net migration of Asian Americans.
Although this is good news altogether, let’s not forget that there’s an income disparity within our community. While a lot of Asian American households are experiencing income growth, we’ve also been hit hard with the pandemic with small businesses closing and jobs lost due to Covid-19.
Jesse Vaughan, co-founder of Landed: Essential professionals and individuals who can work from home are buying homes. They are also changing housing preferences, for example, seeking more space. Combined with record-low mortgage rates and forbearance programs, odds are the housing market will remain strong, but it is not a foregone conclusion. There is still significant risk to the downside if economic normalization coming out of the pandemic is botched or significantly delayed.
The trend of Millennials moving to the suburbs and mid-sized cities will continue after the pandemic subsides as it was in motion before Covid-19. The pandemic has accelerated what is a generational trend: getting married, having children and desiring more space. I expect price increases in the highest-cost metropolitan areas, such as San Francisco and New York, will trail rising mid-size cities, such as Austin, Texas and Salt Lake City.
Daryl Fairweather, chief economist of Redfin: Although the U.S. may be able to vaccinate most of its citizens by the end of 2021, many countries will struggle to distribute vaccines. Thus, the global economic recovery could take much longer, which would make U.S. mortgage-backed securities attractive to international investors, keeping mortgage rates low. Even as the pandemic hopefully nears its end, Americans will continue to buy homes that fit their new lifestyle. As a result, 2021 will see more home sales than any year since 2006. Annual sales growth will increase from 5% in 2020 to over 10% in 2021.
Rising prices for existing homes will increasingly drive more buyers to consider a new one. And because home buyers are now more eager to buy in suburban and rural areas where land is cheaper than in the cities, there will be more areas where homes can be built profitably. By the end of the year, the homeownership rate will rise above 69% for the first time since 2005.
Antoine Thompson, executive director of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers: As the nation continues to grapple with Covid-19, the 2021 housing market will continue to have low interest rates. Congress will likely approve funding and legislation by the Biden-Harris administration for the creation of a new closing cost and down-payment assistance program and/or tax credit to help increase the rate of Black and minority homeownership. There will be a push by housing and civil rights advocates to have the Biden-Harris administration fix the fair housing and community reinvestment policies rolled back by the Trump-Pence administration.
David Howard, National Rental Home Council executive director: Two things to watch are supply and affordability. Will there be enough homes for those that need them, and at what price? Covid-19 served to accelerate a move toward single-family home living that had started to take shape over the past few years. Much of this move is being led by Millennials, who are transitioning squarely into prime household formation years. However, that generation is also the least wealthy at a time when the cost of homeownership continues to climb. We believe these demographic factors bode well in the coming years for the rental housing market, particularly single-family rental homes. Millennials’ demand for housing is not going to diminish, but it may just take a little longer to make homeownership a reality.
Paul Lueken, chief executive of Draper and Kramer Mortgage Corp.: As the Covid-19 vaccine is distributed, the economy will begin to open up and recover. Economic activity will most likely return to pre-pandemic levels by late 2021 or early 2022. The Federal Reserve will continue to support a low interest rate environment for much of 2021, and mortgage rates can be expected to remain low for most of the year. Home sales will therefore stay strong due to the low interest rates and the recovering economy.
Gary Acosta, co-founder and CEO of the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals: Nationwide, low interest rates will fuel homeownership demand in the first half of the year while employment gains will keep demand high in the second half of the year. Texas, home to many Latinos and a greater number of newcomers, will see the highest number of new homeowners. The pandemic and subsequent exodus from some cities will cause home prices in New York and California to flatten with modest price declines in Manhattan and San Francisco.
Lawrence Yun, National Association of Realtors chief economist: Home sales surprised with a surge in the second half of 2020 and the momentum will carry into 2021. The record low mortgage rates have been the key factor for home buying even in a difficult job market condition. As we enter 2021, jobs will steadily recover especially knowing that the vaccine distribution is just around the corner.
The interest rates will continue to be favorable since the Federal Reserve has indicated such. And supply will rise based on the higher number of housing starts of single-family homes. This will give consumers more choices, and more importantly, will tame home price growth. Demand could be stronger in the outlying suburbs and in more affordable metro markets, while the downtown locations could witness softer demand.
Steve Baird, president and CEO of Baird & Warner: As we all found ourselves spending more time at home this year, the market for new homes and even secondary residences exploded, and we expect that to continue in 2021 as priorities change in response to Covid-19. Many buyers aren’t waiting for a return to normal. Instead, they’re anticipating a new normal in which they live, work and entertain differently than ever before and view housing through that lens.
Edward Mermelstein, founder and CEO of One and Only Holdings: With the new administration’s plan to offer housing incentives, we can expect to see an uptick in the housing market. The luxury real estate front will continue to experience the slowdown that started two years ago, however, areas that have been battered throughout the pandemic such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York City should begin to pick back up with federal aid in the new year.
Jarred Kessler, CEO and co-founder of EasyKnock: As companies announce plans to allow employees to permanently work remotely, high-tax cities will continue to see a talent drain as people relocate in search of cities with a lower cost of living. Second-tier cities like Austin, Charlotte and Tampa will experience a residential building boom.
As Covid-19 rages on and with new restrictions likely to be put into place, the financial options for homeowners is growing scarce. 2021 will see an increase of alternative financing options for homeowners to provide additional flexibility during times of financial crisis.
The federal government will create an incentive stimulus program for landlords and homeowners to allow renters or owners to remain in their homes and will extend the eviction moratorium to line up with the vaccine rollout.
Tendayi Kapfidze, LendingTree chief economist: The housing market should continue to be a bright spot in 2021. Key to this will be mortgage rates that we expect to remain low as the Fed keeps up its security purchases. A less appreciated factor is a savings rollover from 2020 that will support home purchases by wealthier households. Additional fiscal stimulus could also find its way into the housing market. The new Biden administration’s policies may also increase access to the housing market through things like down payment support. Finally, student loan forgiveness could boost the ability of many to afford buying a home and saving for down payments.
There are some downside risks to this outlook. The economy will be recovering as vaccines lead us down the path of normalcy, but the labor market could remain weak. A tepid labor market recovery would be accompanied by tepid income growth. Job losses are moving up the income scale and transitioning to permanent losses from temporary. Lending standards are likely to tighten further as the end of forbearance and foreclosure moratoriums are a wild card, potentially weighing on home prices in some areas. The rent crisis is another wild card and could bleed in the owner-occupied market via adding supply or affecting the financial markets.
Keith Gumbinger, vice president of mortgage information website HSH.com: While a good year for home sales is likely, it may be hard to improve much on 2020. Record and near-record low mortgage rates will continue to create demand for homes, and these come amid demographic tailwinds from Millennials moving into their prime home-buying years, enhanced by the Covid-19 work-from-home or anywhere trend. However sales will be met by tempering forces: declining affordability due to still-rising home prices and a lack of supply of houses, especially existing homes. The new home market may provide options for some home buyers, so sales there should be well supported, too.
Sara Rodriguez, president of the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals: The real estate market will continue to be strong for the first half of the year. There is still pent-up demand for inventory, and the historic low interest rates don’t seem like they will rise next year. Due to Covid-19, we have seen a decrease in construction materials, so we don’t see a lot of new construction to keep up with this demand. Although we will see some distressed homes come on the market from those people in forbearance or who have lost their jobs due to Covid-19, the demand will be there to absorb additional homes in most markets.
Susan Wachter, Sussman Professor of Real Estate and Finance at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania: The residential real estate market will prosper in 2021, even as Covid-19 continues to ravage the economy, delaying full recovery to 2022. Low interest rates will prevail, resulting in lower mortgage costs for home buyers who can qualify. We will see slower price rises in the mid-single digit range, as affordability gaps cut demand.
Although 2021 will not see the spike in demand for residential property that characterized 2020, I expect to see a continuation in 2021 of trend shifts catalyzed by the pandemic. While 2021 will see home builders responding to higher prices, supply and inventory will still be limited. Fed policy will enable lower mortgage rates for highly creditworthy borrowers, while inflation may begin to emerge. Finally, the Millennial generation will continue to be the defining demographic group in the housing market for years to come.
Joe Tyrrell, president, ICE Mortgage Technology: In addition to record-breaking volume for refinance and purchases, there has been an increase in relocations, as people are shifting away from metropolitan areas to more rural ones. We expect this migration trend to continue as people redefine what home means for them. We will likely see borrowers invest more in their houses and choose home locations in places that fit their lifestyles, versus the need to be close to offices or particular schools.
We expect lenders to adopt true automation that increases their scale, especially in the shift to eClosings as the standard, while also reducing their dependency on staff for tasks that can and should be automated. More than ever, the goal for lenders will continue to be to serve borrowers better, faster and more efficiently by leveraging technology that fundamentally supports digitally closing loans.
Jeff Tucker, Zillow senior economist: We expect to see the housing market continue its bull run from this summer and autumn well into 2021. Home value appreciation will approach 9% or even 10% by July, before cooling somewhat down toward 7% appreciation. This rapid price growth will be driven by the same factors that took the steering wheel in 2020: strong demographics, low mortgage rates, and inadequate supply.
The Millennial generation is moving into their mid-30s, bringing a wave of demand from renters looking to buy their first homes. Mortgage rates may inch back up to around 3%, but even at that level, they will be making home purchases more attractive all along the price range. And although builders are finally firing on all cylinders delivering new homes to the market, it will take them a long time to make up for the homebuilding deficit we accumulated from 2008 to 2019.
The clearest barometer we have that reflects all these dimensions of the housing market is active inventory, which is down more than one third year-over-year. That suggests continued fast price appreciation ahead and fierce competition between buyers.
Jonathan Corr, chief executive of Ellie Mae: A few factors could drive interest rates lower. One, coronavirus cases are currently spiking in some areas of the country. As we’ve seen since March, upticks in cases at this scale lead to economic uncertainty. And in times of uncertainty, rates traditionally drop. Second, lenders are facing a massive surge in refinance volume at a time when face-to-face meetings aren’t a viable option. Lenders that haven’t invested in digital mortgage technology aren’t clearing their pipelines as fast as they could. So it’s possible the market dictates lower rates, but the industry has not been able to process these loans, meaning it’s not reflected in the current data.
According to our data, this record refinance activity is showing signs of flattening as we continue to enter peak home-buying season. From April to May, purchase volume increased in every state in the U.S. except for Alabama, which saw a slight decline. Sixty percent of these purchase applications were from first-time home buyers, so whether rates increase or decrease in the coming weeks, we’re keeping an eye on a potential resurgence of the purchase market as consumers take advantage of these low rates to become homeowners.
Kiran Vattem, executive vice president, chief digital and technology officer at ServiceLink: As a growing real estate market goes digital, cybersecurity moves front and center. Low mortgage rates and homeowners’ growing desire to move to suburbs is driving today’s booming residential real estate market, with no plans to slow in 2021.
While Covid-19 has accelerated digital adoption across the mortgage life cycle — making real estate transactions more automated and streamlined — it has also opened the industry up to new security vulnerabilities and potential for hackers to access sensitive data. In 2021, the industry’s focus will probably shift in order to balance front-end innovation with the tech that can be leveraged to fortify the mortgage ecosystem from cybersecurity risks in an increasingly digital future.
Dan Kessler, chief executive of Harbor: Consumers will prioritize home safety and self-sufficiency as natural disasters continue. The home is a key frontier yet to be enabled by technology. If we use software to help us learn faster, exercise more or communicate, why don’t we use software to make our homes safer and more efficient? I’m not talking about smart home tech per se, but rather the basic safety and maintenance of the home is not yet managed by any meaningful technology.
In 2021, I see preparedness, readiness and home self-sufficiency being a major trend that’s going to dominate a set of habits, practices and products for consumers. Increasingly, we’ll see this become a part of goals and planning as uncertainty — and risks — rise. You can’t plan for future success if you don’t feel secure at a fundamental level, and Covid-19 validated that there’s a need for technology and tools around emergency preparedness. In the real estate market, we will see consumer need for security drive tech-enabled safety products.
Kris Lindahl, CEO and founder of Kris Lindahl Real Estate: After seeing record buyer engagement coupled with incredibly low inventory, we’ll see a gradual increase in homes for sale in the late winter and early spring, followed by a huge loosening in the summer. I wouldn’t be surprised if inventories tracked closely with vaccine rollout. So many people have been sitting on the sidelines waiting for a feeling of certainty, a light at the end of the tunnel, or any positive news on the pandemic.
We’ll have a tough early winter as far as inventory goes, but once people start to feel some positive momentum around Covid, we could see the largest and fastest influx of homes on the market in a century. We’ll also see continued growth in people opting for guaranteed offers and other ways of selling that emphasize certainty, control and convenience.
People are realizing that they no longer have to deal with showings and open houses, and as long as they can still get a competitive offer in their home, they’ll do it. And in general, we’ll see more people wanting to buy based on how much “home” has meant to people over the course of the pandemic. We’ve seen our homes become our schools, offices, gyms, restaurants and entertainment centers. Even post-pandemic, people will want space, privacy and backyards.
Eric Fontanot, president of Patten Title: We expect to see home prices continue to climb to new highs. This continued rise is due in large part to inventory not having caught up to the strong buyer demand, builders not being able to get homes on the ground fast enough, and low interest rates continuing to help with buying power.
We also anticipate a return of more traditional seasonality in the residential market. For buyers, the forecast will most likely consist of a highly competitive market during the traditional buying months due to low inventory and low interest rates, which will drive housing prices to reach near all-time highs. This also means buyers will have to contend with challenges of affordability, especially when rates rise, even ever so slightly, which could happen toward the end of 2021.
For sellers, the rollover from 2020 should mean consistent home sales, relatively low time on market, and at or above asking price offers, especially during the peak season. It is not out of the realm of possibility that home prices hit new highs in 2021. That said, when rates begin to taper off or rise, the balance between affordability and asking price tilts causing the market to slow.