With the pandemic creating an employment nightmare, the unemployment rate has been a closely watched statistic. Employment is still below pre-pandemic levels, but has rebounded fairly well. That may be giving us false hope, though, since there are other jobs-related statistics to consider.
In a previous article (https://www.carlandarda.com/?p=1370) we looked at the difference between employment rate, measuring what percentage of those in the labor force have jobs, and labor force participation rate, measuring what percentage of people are able to hold jobs, whether they currently do or not. We already saw there that LFP dropped as a result of the pandemic, indirectly reducing the unemployment rate without actually creating jobs.
But there’s another statistic that sheds some light on what the pandemic has done to the jobs market. The long-term unemployment rate specifically measures what percentage of those looking for a job have been searching for 27 weeks or more. Before this recession, the LTU rate has been around 20%. This means that 80% of unemployed people were finding jobs, retiring, or giving up entirely within six months. This rate has been going up rapidly and was at 37% as of November 2020. Not only have more people given up or been forced into retirement, but more of those still searching for jobs aren’t able to find one quickly.
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Many would-be homeowners in the Millennial and Gen Z generations are going to need to wait. Despite the fact that some who wished to buy are instead renting, apartment vacancies are on the rise as 27.7 million have moved back in with parents or other relatives, if they ever left home at all. The good news is that this number is dropping, but only the luckiest of them will be able to snatch an opportunity in the coming months amid heavy competition.
11% of renters were excited to make the transition to homeownership in the beginning of 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic and the recession squashed those dreams for many of them. Those who experienced income loss as a result of the pandemic are twice as likely to have trouble with paying bills, rent, or mortgage, or need to withdraw savings or retirement or borrow from friends or family. That isn’t the whole of the problem, though: California has been lacking affordable housing for decades as a result of mere population growth, an issue that was only accelerated by the recession and lockdowns, which have slowed or halted construction.
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You’ve probably heard of a W-shaped recovery, even if you don’t know what it means. This refers to a false start in recovery, whereby the economy is improving in one sector, but doesn’t have the momentum to continue recovering, so it wobbles a bit. This has been what experts believed the current recovery would be like. Now, though, some people are wanting to call the recession and recovery K-shaped. What does this mean? It means that some sectors will recover and retain their momentum, while other sectors haven’t yet left the recession and continue downward. In other words, the recession has very clearly disproportionately affected various groups.
More specifically, this recession has had comparatively little impact on wealthy individuals. People with higher paying jobs are more likely to work in fields that can be done from home, so they haven’t been out of work during the pandemic. People who have the capital to invest in stocks as their primary means of income don’t have to worry so much about the pandemic, since stocks can’t get sick. They’ve actually been on an upward trend since before the lockdowns even began. Even those higher-income workers who did experience losses won’t have as much necessary expenditure proportional to income as those living paycheck to paycheck. This means that the recession has significantly widened the already large income inequality gap.
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As with any recession, at some point the direction of prices is going to change. In most cases, real estate speculators purchase at low prices so they can later sell at a higher price. Currently, speculators are most likely to be sellers, not buyers, since home prices are already high, and are expected to decrease in 2021 as sales volume continues to drop. Once prices start dropping, as buyers are waiting for prices to bottom out, sellers are looking to sell as quickly as possible to get the most money. With more seller willingness, buyer speculators are also coming in 2021.
Given the current high buyer demand, a sudden increase in seller willingness is going to look like the beginning of a recovery. Don’t be fooled by this. Speculators are generally people who can afford to be wrong. This increase in activity is not going to be a result of a stabilizing economy, but of opportunists who were largely unaffected by the recession wanting quick sales. Speculators generally only constitute 20% of buyers. For an actual recovery, the rest of the populace needs a stable income. That means job recovery, which isn’t expected until 2023.
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Reports demonstrate record job gains in California in the last few months, nearly 700,000. But that doesn’t mean we’re actually making new jobs. It means that we lost so many jobs this year that even recovering a small percentage of them is going to look like a large number. There were actually over 2.7 million jobs lost in California between December 2019 and April 2020, significantly more than were lost in two years during the 2008 recession. So we’re still a long way off from returning to the December 2019 peak, let alone generating new jobs.
Federal assistance has been necessary to keep the economy floating, but it’s also been inadequate. We’re going to need a lot more help. A COVID-19 vaccine is a solid step, allowing more people to return to work. It’s not going to be enough, though, since the economy was already on a downward trend before COVID-19 — recall that the peak was December 2019, three months before the lockdowns. The recovery is expected to be W-shaped, with some unstable gains from now through 2021, and no clear upward trend until 2022 or 2023. Even then, job recovery will have just started, and the real estate market is going to need even more time after jobs start back up.
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Throughout California, homes are selling quickly. 46% of homes are on the market less than two weeks. Using data from Redfin, 54% of offers were contested. The breakdown by region is 67% in the San Francisco/San Jose area, 65% in San Diego, 58% in Los Angeles, and 47% in Sacramento. However, don’t mistake this for a healthy market — we’re still in a transition period.
The actual reason for low days-on-market is a combination of high buyer demand, due to low interest rates, and low inventory. Those who are able to buy correctly recognize this as a great time to do so if you are able to afford it, and are scrambling to get at what few properties are available for sale. Even the high demand, though, is merely high relative to inventory — there still aren’t very many people who are able to afford a purchase right now. Whether or not we get a COVID-19 vaccine before then, the housing market won’t properly right itself until the job market stabilizes. The expectation is that this won’t happen until 2022 or 2023.
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It may seem intuitive to look at past recessions, such as the one in 2008, to predict the market during the current recession. But that doesn’t always work, since the circumstances surrounding the downturn may be different. In 2008, what caused home prices to drop was reduced buyer demand and increased foreclosures and short sales. Now in 2020, that’s not happening.
Buyer demand is actually relatively high right now, as a result of interest rates being low. The Fed decreased interest rates in 2019 in expectation of a recession. They were right, of course, but couldn’t have predicted the exacerbating effect that COVID-19 would have. Interest rates can’t get much lower without the Fed going negative, so the market doesn’t have anywhere to go. Foreclosures may be on the horizon if federal and state governments don’t maintain protections. But for the time being, there’s a moratorium on most foreclosures, so there’s no need to drop home prices. Another factor is the lack of construction. With fewer homes being built, especially in the form of affordable housing, low inventory means there’s no competitive pressure on sellers to reduce prices.
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The real estate journal First Tuesday asked readers in July how they felt the 2020 recession would impact for-sale inventory. The votes are now in.
A plurality of respondents, 45%, felt inventory would go down. This would likely be a result of both anxiety from sellers and not enough construction. However, the number who instead felt construction would increase and there would be rental vacancies, leading to more listings, was 39%, not too far off from the plurality. The third and final category, those who felt there would be little to no impact, totalled 16%.
But that was July. It’s now August, and there certainly has been an impact. It turns out the 45% were right. Inventory has declined steeply, and construction companies are even more wary about building than they already were before the pandemic. Fortunately, declining rental vacancies points to an increase in inventory as soon as construction starts back up. Changes to California zoning laws also hope to speed up construction.
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Some markets have recovered very well from the recession, with over 95% of home values in seven of the 35 largest markets exceeding the pre-recession peak in 2006. And in 21 of those 35, the median home value has reached this point. The housing boom and bust didn’t affect every market equally, though, and nor has recovery been the same for all of them. Half of all US homes haven’t fully recovered.
Market stability was a large contributing factor. The boom was enormous in Las Vegas — and the bust shattered the market, with less than 1% of homes having fully recovered value. The Denver market was more stable a decade ago when the crisis hit, and enjoys values higher than 2006 levels for 99.6% of homes.
Other lasting effects of the crisis are rent values and inventory. Though the rate of acceleration is slowing, rent values are still going up. Similarly, the decline in inventory isn’t as fast as it has been, but it’s still dropping. Inventory will eventually recover, but inflation means rent values will continue to go up even when the market stabilizes.
If there is a particular market you are interested in, or just want more info, check out the article and table provided by Zillow here:
Many people who are seriously thinking about buying or selling are familiar with buyers’ markets and sellers’ markets. Realistically, though, the real estate market can be divided into three phases: buy phase, hold phase, and sell phase. So what are the indicators of each of these phases, and most importantly, which phase are we in now?
The buy phase is characterized by low prices, interest rates, and sales volume, but high inventory. Paradoxically, another characteristic is low demand, because high demand represents more competition and thus lesser chance for each individual buyer to strike a deal. This is when the average buyer can afford the highest percent of the homes currently on the market.
Hold phase may be an unfamiliar concept to some of you. That’s the time when real estate investors want to hold onto the properties they have bought so that they can accrue value before being sold later. The hold phase is simply a period in between a buy phase and a sell phase that likely has characteristics of both.
One may guess the characteristics of a sell phase are opposite those of a buy phase, but this isn’t strictly the case. Yes, the sell phase has low inventory. Each other category is slightly different. Prices and interest rates are typically rising, not simply a high, flat value, and sales volume is still slow. The other factor is not number of buyers but a statistic called yield spread. Yield spread is the difference between the rates of a 10-year Treasury Note and a 3-year Treasury Bill, and a value below 1.0 is an indicator of coming recession. 1.0 was the exact value of the yield spread in June of this year, and is expected to hit zero around the same time next year. In fact, the current market meets all five criteria to be considered a sell phase, as prices and interest rates are still rising, and sales volume has been flat since 2015. Home prices are expected to drop within the next 12 months, though, so if you are planning to sell, do it now.