Texas housing sales recovered after second-quarter declines, trending upward amid lower mortgage interest rates and a robust economy. Mortgage applications for home purchases and refinances continued to rise, nudged by further decreases in interest rates. Demand was stable as the average home sold after two months on the market. On the supply side, single-family housing permits recovered from second quarter stagnation; however, starts remained sluggish. Home-price appreciation slowed but outpaced wage growth. Housing affordability continues to be the greatest challenge to the housing market across the state.
The Texas Residential Construction Cycle (Coincident) Index, which measures current construction activity, inched up amid ongoing payroll growth in the industry. Higher wages and an upturn in construction values, however, are crucial for the metric’s continued growth. The Residential Construction Leading Index rose to its highest level since the Great Recession as falling interest rates and a rebound in building permits favored a more positive outlook.
Single-family construction permits bounced back 16.5 percent after staggering in June, but the year-to-date (YTD) count remained behind January through July of last year. Nevertheless, Texas’ 10,504 monthly permits (nonseasonally adjusted) accounted for 15 percent of the U.S. total, extending a 13-year stretch as the national leader. Houston and DFW topped the list at the metropolitan level with 3,493 and 2,944 permits, respectively, but North Texas activity remained suppressed through 2019. On the other hand, permits rebounded in Central Texas after taking a step back in June. Austin ranked fifth behind Phoenix and Atlanta with 1,525 permits. San Antonio issued 817 permits, up 10.9 percent year over year (YOY).
Total Texas housing starts flattened as apartment construction stumbled on top of a steep decline in June. The single-family sector remained stagnant while single-family private construction values perpetuated a yearlong trend of decline. Houston construction values rebounded after falling to a seven-year low but trended downward. DFW registered similar movement while Austin and San Antonio values dipped in July.
Dwindling supply pulled Texas’ months of inventory (MOI) to the lowest level this year at 3.7 months. A total MOI around six months is considered a balanced housing market. The MOI for homes priced less than $300,000, which comprised the majority of sales, ticked below 2.8 months. Inventory for luxury homes (those priced more than $500,000), however, increased for the fourth consecutive month to reach an MOI of nine months. These divergent trends exemplify the shortage of affordable housing and the current mismatch between demand and supply.
The MOI ticked down across the major metros, chipping away at 2018 gains. Houston’s MOI fell below four months. Dallas and Fort Worth reached YTD lows at 3.2 and 2.6 months, respectively. In San Antonio, the MOI slid to 3.6 months, while Austin inventories fell to a three-year low, registering below 2.4 months.
Total housing sales through the MLS corrected upward 17 percent in July after declines in the previous two months. All price cohorts registered double-digit YTD growth except for homes priced less than $100,000, where a shortage of supply constrains sales. Despite the monthly jump, the sales pace shows signs of slowing in the $200,000-$300,000 price range, where more than a third of transactions take place.
After reaching YTD lows in June, metropolitan housing sales posted cycle-highs. Resale activity in Central Texas boosted YTD sales by 3.7 and 3.1 percent in Austin and San Antonio, respectively, compared with the same period last year. Total sales in Houston registered a 1.2 percent rise as the existing-home transactions increased at a more moderate pace. Growth in Dallas and Fort Worth home sales flattened at 1.0 and 0.7 percent, respectively, as North Texas’ resale market fell short of 2018 levels in the first seven months.
As sales stabilized, Texas’ average days on market (DOM) inched up to 60 days. Demand in the major metros also softened slightly but hovered around yearlong averages. Austin and San Antonio’s DOM stabilized at 59 days, as did Houston’s metric after falling the second quarter. The DOM in Fort Worth ticked up to 45 days. Dallas was the exception, where the DOM extended a sharp incline, reaching a six-and-a-half-year high of 58 days.
Continued concerns about global economic growth and trade uncertainty pulled interest rates down for the ninth consecutive month. Economic fundamentals at the state and national level, however, remain healthy and stable. Interest rates could fall further following the Federal Reserve’s rate cut. The ten-year U.S. Treasury bond yield flattened at a two-and-a-half year low of 2.1 percent, while the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation’s 30-year fixed-rate dropped below 3.8 percent. Texans capitalized on lower rates, pushing mortgage applications for home purchases up 18.1 percent YTD. Refinance mortgage applications, which are more sensitive to interest rate fluctuations, have doubled since year-end.
The Texas median home price posted a new record-high, reaching $240,500. The annual rate of growth was 3.8 percent, below the 2018 average of 4.6 percent. Austin led the state with an all-time high median price of $315,500, followed by Dallas at $292,900. The median price in Fort Worth ($241,800) and Houston ($240,900) fell $800 and $400, respectively, from second-quarter record highs. San Antonio was the only metro with a median price below the statewide level, posting $232,500.
The Texas Repeat Sales Index increased 4.1 percent YOY on a statewide basis, insinuating greater home-price appreciation than the annual change in the Texas median home price. The index did, however, corroborate slowing growth compared with the 2018 and 2017 averages of 4.3 and 5.1 percent, respectively. North Texas registered 2.9 and 4.2 percent in Dallas and Fort Worth, respectively; however, appreciation calmed in comparison to 2018 levels. On the other hand, Austin’s index accelerated 5.2 percent, the fastest growth rate in over two years. Houston and San Antonio’s indices rose above last year’s average pace to 2.8 and 4.2 percent, respectively.
Source – James P. Gaines, Luis B. Torres, Wesley Miller, and Paige Silva (September 6, 2019)