As much as a housing market crash would prove a net detriment to the U.S. economy, there remains a silver lining for one sizable group of Americans: renters. Rent prices are up nearly 30% this year, primarily a consequence of a topsy turvy real estate market. As mortgage rates teetered around 6% for much of the year, a growing number of would-be homebuyers have been forced into an already cramped rental space, pushing up prices in the process. While there’s little argument that a housing crash would be of benefit to the greater U.S. economy, those in the “lifetime renter” camp may see some relief.
So, how would a housing market downturn benefit U.S. renters?
Well, to understand how a housing pullback could help renters, requires knowing why the current state of the real estate market has been so hard on renters. As the Federal Reserve repeatedly hiked interest rates this year, pushing up Treasury yields in the process, mortgage rates have quietly climbed to the highest level in 15 years. Indeed, just last week the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage hit 6.29%, more than double what many analysts projected heading into the year.
The mortgage is, for better or worse the bedrock of the U.S. housing market. When lending rates are too high, many would-be home buyers, especially families, are forced to exit the market, instead taking shelter in the generally less volatile renters market. Unfortunately, this transition has had unfortunate effects on rental rates.
The Beginnings of a Real Estate Pullback
As large swathes of Americans opt to rent instead of committing to an uncomfortably high mortgage, rent prices have climbed dramatically. Recent data from Dwellsy shows a 27.9% increase in rent from last year. Single-family rental homes in particular have borne the brunt of the rental price increase, reflecting the impact of high mortgage rates and elevated home prices overall.
With that said, notions of a housing crash remain as salient as ever, something that may prove beneficial to renters. The fact is that the high-demand, low-supply real estate market that pushed prices up relentlessly in 2020 and 2021 is quickly reversing. Mortgage application volume is at a 22-year low, home sales are cratering, and searches for “sell my house” have been trending at the highest level in U.S. internet history.
Unlike the past few years, the supply of homes is starting to outpace demand, and the result is meaningful: local housing markets all over the country are beginning to undergo a widespread pullback. In fact, the Zillow Home Value Index fell 0.1% in July, the first drop since 2012, reflecting an overall decline in home values month-to-month.
As prices begin to slide, you can expect the interest in actually purchasing homes to swing back up, putting downward pressure on rental rates.
Why Rent Prices May Ease During a Housing Market Recession
The housing market is quickly pivoting from the best seller’s market ever, to a historic buyer’s market. Mortgage rates aside, home values appear to be at the precipice of a major pullback. Some economists claim the U.S. is already in a housing recession. Others claim it’s on the way. Either way, as home prices ease, expect rental rates to enjoy some relief.
According to Jonas Bordo, the Chief Executive and Co-Founder of Dwellsy, there are strong signs that rent is already on the way down:
The good news is, there’s a little relief for renters on the horizon. Despite the massive year-over-year increase, August saw only a 0.5 percent (or $10) increase in median asking rent. That’s significant because we would normally expect rent to increase by 1 percent as rents approach their seasonal peak in the early fall. I do expect this slowdown to continue.
There’s more nuance here than may meet the eye. August and September are typically the hottest months for rental contracts, period. As students graduate, workers relocate to accommodate new job offers, and other life-changing events that typically occur in the summer months, the demand for apartments naturally goes up. This typically results in higher rental rates in the summer months. As such, the fact that rental rates slowed a bit in August, is a good sign that rent prices are passed their peak and are likely to see further pullbacks going forward.
Mortgage rates are likely the single biggest barrier to a drop in rent prices going forward. With further interest rate hikes from the Fed a distinct possibility, it’s anyone’s guess as to how far home prices will fall. But, should the storied housing crash prove more fact than fiction, expect rent to experience its own cool-down.
On the date of publication, Shrey Dua did not hold (either directly or indirectly) any positions in the securities mentioned in this article. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer, subject to the InvestorPlace.com Publishing Guidelines.