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May 27, 2020

This was the first week in several months where it was more difficult to find negative impacts on the economy and housing market than it was to find signs of optimism. And yet, even as the economy begins to heal, it is important to temper that hope with the difficult truth: even if the economy continues to gradually reopen and the leading indicators continue to improve, the toll of the COVID-19 pandemic have been unprecedented and it will take time for us to recover. This is particularly true in a world where the new normal will likely look significantly different than our previous definition. On top of that, we will face both ongoing restrictions and a big learning curve on how to operate in a pre-vaccine world.

Consumer confidence finds bottom: After suffering from its worst decline in nearly 50 years in April, the Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index ticked up slightly in May. The index remains below 100 indicating that consumers are still pessimistic, but it is a slightly lower level of pessimism than in April. This supports the conclusion from a variety of other indicators that the economy and market found a bottom in Mid-April and has begun to stabilize after roughly 2.5 months of sheltering in place.

Mortgage applications regain lost ground: Homebuyers demand is beginning to show signs of life as well as the U.S. recorded its 6th consecutive increase in new purchase-money applications. That brings the number of mortgage applications back above the pre-crisis levels of late February. Importantly, this also erases the year-to-year deficit that peaked in mid-April as well with total applications 8% higher last week than they were during the same period of 2019. California saw its 7th consecutive weekly gain in mortgage applications as well, though it also saw a bigger contraction in the immediate aftermath of the downturn, so it remains roughly 2% below 2019 levels.

Buyer demand coming back with more showings: Buyer demand is also expressing itself in the form of increased showings. Last week, the 7-day moving average of showings posted a 38% increase, which brought the index back to pre-outbreak levels. And although last week’s levels were still roughly 4% below 2019 levels, home showings have improved dramatically from mid-April when showings were falling by nearly 75% on a weekly basis and were well below 2019 levels.

Fewer buyers and sellers backing out of transactions: The percentage of California REALTORS® experiencing buyers and sellers holding back continues to decline. Last week, just 32% of REALTORS® reported having a buyer that has withdrawn an offer on a property they had been ready to purchase. This is down from nearly 50% in mid-April. Similarly, the percentage with sellers that have removed their homes from the MLS completely was down from nearly 60% several weeks ago to 46% over the weekend. These figures remain elevated, but also suggest that peak ‘cold-footedness’ occurred roughly 6 weeks ago.

Shelter in place rules loosened as activity picks up for REALTORS®: Nearly 60% or REALTORS® surveyed over the weekend reported that shelter in place rules have begun to loosen over the past two weeks and for that subset, nearly 70% reported seeing an increase in activity as a result. Roughly half received calls from buyers who wanted to look for homes, another 6% received calls from home sellers, and 41% received calls from both buyers and sellers during this time. In addition, 22% of agents reported listing a property last week, and another 22% entered escrow last week. Encouragingly, 17% of respondents had a transaction close last week—up from 15% the previous week.

Unemployment claims approach 40 million nationwide: Last week, another 2.4 million workers filed for unemployment in the U.S. That brings the 9-week total to 38.6 million. This marks the 7th consecutive week of slowing unemployment claims, but the job losses already incurred to date represent a significant hole to climb out of, nonetheless. Labor market is likely to continue to deteriorate in coming weeks even as the economy begins to reopen due to ongoing restrictions in the sectors that form the bulk of the job losses, albeit at a slower pace.

Record job losses and unemployment in California last month: California got its first true reading on the impacts to its own labor market as the state shed 2.3 million jobs in April. This is 76% more jobs than California lost during the entire Great Recession between 2007 and 2010. In addition, California’s unemployment rate shot past the national average reaching a record of 15.5% last month. Thus, even as the direct effects of the shelter in place begin to subside, the indirect effects associated with lost jobs and income will continue to have deleterious impacts on the economy even as it begins to reopen and several leading indicators begin to trend in the right direction.

Nationally, home sales down roughly half as much as California: The National Association of REALTORS® reported that existing home sales were down roughly 17% in April across the nation. That is roughly half the decline experienced in California where the drop in home sales was more than 30% on both an annual and monthly basis. Home sales were down across the spectrum of regions and price points here in California, with the lower priced segments beginning to see bigger declines in recent weeks as the labor market effects begin to spill over to housing.

Many households still facing financial hardship: Although several indications show that we have a better understanding of what the bottom of this crisis looks like, it does little to alleviate the pain associated with such a severe contraction. Roughly 9% of households were unable to make rent payments in May. That is a slight improvement from nearly 11% in April, but it is 220 basis points higher than it was during the same period of 2019. With nearly 45 million renter households, even an increase from 7% to 9.2% of households represents an additional 1 million families not able to make rent.

The economic and market data has shifted toward a less pessimistic tone in recent weeks with many critical indicators showing signs of life. However, real estate remains poised for ongoing challenges over the next few months as the ripple effects of nearly 40 million job losses continue to play out. We are seeing that light shining at the end of the tunnel, but it is likely still several months out before we truly emerge from the darkness.

Past Market Minutes
May 18, 2020 - Retail sales plunge, consumers still hopeful, mortgage applications increase
May 11, 2020 - Consumer confidence at lowest level since Nov. 2011, U.S. Economy shed 20.5 million jobs in April
May 4, 2020 - Housing demand holding up better than expected, mortgage rates at all-time low
April 27, 2020 - Existing home sales slump in March, weekly jobless claims jump

For previous weeks visit our archive folder.

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