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Sales flatten and prices remain higher, meanwhile new listings rise and rates ease

SPAAR - 12/18/2023

(Dec. 15, 2023) – According to new data from the Saint Paul Area Association of REALTORS® and Minneapolis Area REALTORS®, metro-wide home prices rose slightly in November. Sales activity was flat as mortgage rates softened slightly and new listings were up 5.3%.

Sellers, Buyers and Housing Supply

Rates have eased from over 8.0% in mid-October to around 7.0% by the end of November. While still elevated relative to the last 20 years, that figure is below its 50-year average. In addition to a low baseline comparison, that decline has helped the number of signed purchase agreements stabilize in November. And because sellers weren’t feeling quite as stuck in their homes, the dip in rates helped boost seller activity as some felt more confident about listing their homes.

Slightly lower rates could mean more buyers will qualify and write offers, and that fewer sellers will feel “locked in” to their mortgage rates. While that could mean more listing activity, it’s likely to be met with demand that’s been pent up for a while in the current affordability environment. Come spring market of 2024, that balance between supply and demand may offer key insights into how the year could play out.

Buyers are still feeling the triple punch of low inventory, rising prices and still relatively high mortgage rates. Comparing pending sales to closed sales can offer unique insights into demand trends. Pending sales were down just 1.5% from last November and are a better leading indicator than closings. Closed sales—reflecting contracts mostly signed in September and October when rates were higher—were down 7.1%. On the supply side, inventory levels across the Twin Cities fell 5.1% compared to last November. While buyers are still finding limited options in their searches, deals are still occurring with some persistence and flexibility. In addition, the lack of existing inventory has benefited the new home market.

More buyers are choosing to deploy cash instead of paying today’s interest rates. Cash sales so far this year are at their highest level since 2014. Overall, since both supply and demand levels are lower, the relative balance hasn’t changed as much as expected. “The recent dip in rates has definitely spurred some buyer interest,” said Jerry Moscowitz, President of Minneapolis Area REALTORS®. “Buyers choosing to wait until spring should expect heightened competition.”

Prices, Market Times and Negotiations

Though seemingly counter-intuitive, home prices continued their ascent, up a modest 2.0% from last November. Prices are rising for several reasons.

  • Supply is short as homeowners with favorable rates remain in their homes.
  • Today’s buyers tend to be better off financially and often use cash for higher-priced homes as higher rates have hindered the mid-end buyer, meaning activity is skewing toward the higher end of the market.
  • Luxury activity continues to outperform along with new construction activity that also skews toward the upper end.

Negotiations held firm but have balanced out recently. Sellers accepted 97.4% of their asking price, which was up from 2022 but down from 2021. Half the homes went under contract in under 23 days compared to 25 days last year. That figure was once again improved from 2022 but softer compared to 2021.

Those two indicators reflect the relatively strong position in which sellers still find themselves, assuming they’re willing to sell. For November, the median home price rose 2.0% to $362,000. The year as a whole will likely show 1.0 to 2.0% price growth. “Buyers seem more sensitive to changes in rates than to the rate itself,” said Brianne Lawrence, President of the Saint Paul Area Association of REALTORS®. “While even a full point decrease in the rate hasn’t magically solved our affordability issues, it does lower monthly payments slightly.”

Affordability, Rates and Payments

Even as the Federal Reserve paused their rate hikes, the impact of mortgage rates on monthly payments is significant. Mortgage rates hit a 23-year high in October but retreated nearly a full point since. The Housing Affordability Index reached its lowest level since at least 2004. Given rates, incomes and prices at the time, affordability was better in 2006 than it is today. Using some assumptions around taxes and insurance, the local monthly payment on the median priced home stands at $2,650 so far this year compared to $1,600 in 2020.

Location & Property Type

Market activity always varies by area, price point and property type. New home sales rose while existing home sales fell. Condo sales rose more than single family and townhome units. Purchase agreements were down 13.0% in St. Paul but up 14.5% in Minneapolis. Cities farther out such as Cologne, Princeton, New Prague and North Oaks saw among the largest sales gains while Monticello, Isanti and Shorewood all had weaker demand.

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The Saint Paul Area Association of REALTORS® and Minneapolis Area REALTORS® jointly share the Twin Cities housing reports each month.

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