Rising Inventory Will Be the Housing Market’s Next Problem

The US housing market is in an uneasy state of equilibrium. Demand has plummeted as mortgage rates hit a two-decade high, but prices haven’t declined much in part because supply remains correspondingly low. If borrowing costs don’t start to normalize by early next year though, the scales may finally tip and prices could plunge.

The start of the year, of course, is when homeowners and real estate agents start to bring new inventory to market. It’s a time-honored tradition that draws on some smart strategy and a bit of industry lore. As the thinking goes, buyers and sellers often want to get their transactions closed by summer, especially if they have children starting at new schools in September. Agents also contend that homes look their best in spring, surrounded by lush landscaping and emerald green lawns. Even if sellers don’t come out in quite their usual numbers this year, there may still be enough additional inventory to push home prices over the cliff.

Clearly, the amount of supply on the market is still extraordinarily low relative to demand. It would take just 3.3 months to work through the market’s existing home inventory, based on non-seasonally adjusted data for the most recent month. The metric had already been declining consistently for a decade through 2019, but the pandemic brought it to unthinkable lows. It’s no wonder that the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller 20-City Composite Home Price Index is down only about 2% from its peak despite mortgage rates surging to 7% from 3% in 10 months.