The Putnam housing market corrected a bit in a slow fourth quarter, after surges through much of the year. Single-family home sales were down about 3% for the quarter, with prices falling over 4% on average and almost 7% at the median. For the 2019 calendar year, though, Putnam’s market generally grew, with sales up over 2% from 2018. Full-year prices were more mixed, with the average falling almost 2% and the median rising almost 3%. We believe that this pricing divergence is mostly due to the effects of the 2018 Tax Reform cap on state and local taxes (i.e., the “SALT Cap”), which has had more of an impact on the average price by suppressing some high-end activity. Going forward, we expect a relatively robust spring market, with prices still below their seller-market highs, interest rates near historic lows, and a growing economy.
The Putnam housing market surged in the third quarter, with sales rising and prices generally appreciating. Single‑family sales were up over 9% compared to last year’s third quarter, with the 326 recorded closings marking the highest quarterly total in over three years. Pricing for the quarter was a little more mixed, with the median price rising almost 4% but the average price down a tick. Indeed, pricing for the rolling year showed the same divergence, with the median up over 5% but the average up only 0.3%. We believe that the discrepancy between the average and median has a lot to do with the suppressive effect of the 2018 Tax Reform cap on state and local tax deductions (“SALT Cap”) on the high‑end of the market, which is holding down the average even while the overall strength in the market buoys the median. This is good news for the average homeowner in Putnam (outside the highest‑end markets), who is likely experiencing significant price appreciation and a robust seller’s market. Moreover, we believe that the market is eventually going to price in the effects of the SALT Cap, which will boost the higher‑end of the market and probably drive more widespread price appreciation by next year.
The Putnam housing market cruised through the second quarter of 2019, with sales up and prices basically flat. Compared to the rest of the region, Putnam was a bit of an outlier, with single-family home sales rising 7% for the quarter and almost 1% for the rolling year – the only county in the region with rising sales. Single-family pricing was a little more mixed: flat on average, up almost 4% at the median, and down 1% in the price-per-square-foot. For the rolling year, though, prices have been generally appreciating. Moreover, the negotiability indicators signaled a rising seller’s market, with days-on-market falling and the listing retention rate up. Going forward, we expect that Putnam will continue to show modest sales growth and price appreciation through the summer and fall.
Right now is a really great time to be buying a home in Westchester or the Hudson Valley.
Man, do I hate saying that. As I’ve explained before, I hate the phrase “great time to buy” for a couple of reasons.
First, people have different needs, and a market that’s great for one person might be terrible for another person.
Second, while markets tend to move together, we do see micro-markets (i.e., towns and villages) that defy larger trends. So while it might be a great time to buy in Village A, it might be not so great in Town B.
Third, and most importantly, though, “it’s a great time to buy!” just seems like a hack thing to say, the kind of thing that TERRIBLE real estate agents have said for generations to get unsuspecting and gullible people to buy an overpriced home. And I think that most people get suspicious when real estate agents talk like that.
So I understand if you’re skeptical. And that’s why I don’t want to just TELL you it’s a great time to buy, I want to SHOW you why it’s a great time to buy.
Specifically, I want to make this specific point: the monthly payment you need to buy an inflation-adjusted average priced home in Westchester and the Hudson Valley is as low as its been in a generation.
Think about what I’m saying for a second. I’m NOT saying that homes are cheaper than they’ve ever been. That’s not true. Depending on the year, homes have appreciated, and if you go back more than 15 years, they’ve appreciated pretty dramatically. I’m just saying that the MONTHLY PAYMENT you need to make to buy the AVERAGE PRICED HOME is lower right now than it’s been in a generation — if you control for the effects of inflation.
If you look at the graph below for Westchester County, you’ll see what I mean.
On that graph, as we’ve done before, we’ve plotted the monthly payment that a purchaser in the county would have to make to purchase the average-priced home at various points over the years. After all, affordability is not just a matter of the sales price – it’s a matter of the monthly payment you’re going to have to make, which is partly a function of the prevailing interest rate. And then to measure the change in the monthly payment over time, we factored in the effects of inflation.
So we took the following data points:
•The average price of a single family home up to the end of 2017 – from the local MLS data.
•The average interest rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage for every calendar year up to 2017 – from Freddie Mac.
•The prevailing inflation rate for every calendar year up to 2017– from the US Department of Labor.
You can see the results on the graph. The monthly payment you have to make to purchase the average-priced home in Westchester is just about as low as it’s been in years. We saw the slightest uptick from 2012-2014, partially because of a slight increase in pricing and a slow inflating of interest rates. But the payment came down again over the past two years, with rates falling and prices stalling.
Generally, though, we’re talking about a monthly payment that is as low as anytime in the past 35 years – and as low as it was in the mid-1990s, during a crippling buyer’s market.
So why are monthly payments lower than they’ve been in a generation? A couple of reasons:
1) Prices. Part of it is that we have not seen prices go up in any measurable way in almost 10 years. Home prices peaked in 2006-08, lost about 25-30% of value from 2008-2010, and have bounced around a little since then. But they’re still around 2004 levels — without controlling for inflation.
2) Inflation. Ah, yes, inflation — the value of money goes down a little bit each year as inflation takes a bite. Now, inflation rates have been pretty low over the past 15 years from historical standards, but that little bit each year does add up.
3) Rates. But the biggest reason we’re seeing monthly payments lower than they’ve been in a generation is that rates are still at historic lows. After all, about ten years ago, the average interest rate was about 6%. For the past few years, it’s been below 4%. That’s a huge difference in your monthly payment.
And the same is true throughout the Hudson Valley. I showed you Westchester first because we have good data on prices for the county going back all the way to 1981. In other counties, our data doesn’t go back as far, but if we look at each of those counties you can see that it’s pretty much the same story for the time period we have.
Orange County. Here’s Orange County, where we have data going back to 1994:
You can see that the monthly payment to buy an average-priced home in Orange County is lower right now than it’s been in over 20 years.
Rockland County. In Rockland, we have data going back to 2002, over 14 years of data.
Again, you can see that even with a slight rise in the past few years, the monthly payment you have to make to buy the average-priced home in Rockland is lower right now than it’s been since at least 2002, and probably for quite a bit of time before that.
Putnam County. Similarly, we have data going back to 2002 in Putnam, and the story is the same:
Dutchess County. Again, same story in Dutchess County for that same period:
And although we don’t have data for Orange, Rockland, Putnam, or Dutchess going back as far as Westchester, the fact that the curve over the recent decade or so is very consistent with Westchester’s results suggests that, like in Westchester, the monthly payment you need to make throughout the Hudson Valley is lower right now than it’s been since the Carter administration.
Condos and Coops. All that’s for single-family homes. What about condos and coops? Well, we don’t have data going back as far, but in each county, condos (and coops in Westchester) show the same trend — the monthly payment to buy an average priced condo or coop in the region is lower right now than it’s been at any time since the 2005 era. Here are the graphs:
You can see that except for Westchester and Putnam condos, which have seen some pricing changes in the past two years, the monthly payments are lower than any time since 2005. And even in Westchester and Putnam, they’re lower now than at any time in the last decade, just a little higher than the last two years.
We wrote this up last year, and predicted that 2016 would be the last time we’d be able to say it. And we were mostly correct, since prices throughout the region went up a bit, and rates started to creep up. So it’s not quite right to say that 2018 is the best year to buy a home in a generation, since 2917 and 2916might have been better. But you have to otice the trend — the real monthly payment you have to make to buy the average-priced home in our region is lower than it’s been in years.
Again, I HATE it when real estate professionals say that “this is a great time to buy,” because at many times in our history that has been bad advice.
But if you measure a “great time to buy” by looking at the monthly payment you’ll have to make to buy a home, then we’re talking about as good a time to buy as any in the past decades. Prices have been flat for almost 10 years, and they’re down significantly if you factor in the effects of inflation. And interest rates are still as low as we’ve ever seen them. Unless we see some major shock to the economy, I think we’re looking at a near-decade of reasonable price appreciation coupled with increasing interest rates – both of which are going to drive that monthly payment up over the next few years.
So I’m not going to tell you what to do. That’s not my job. But if you’ve been thinking about buying a home, I think these graphs speak for themselves.
Joe Rand is the Chief Creative Officer of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate | Rand Realty, and compiles and writes the Rand Quarterly Market Report.