No matter how the results of Fannie Mae's National Housing Survey for May are interpreted, it is hard to see them as good short terms news for the housing market.  The company says that Americans' concerns about the direction of the economy and their household income appear to be weighing on housing growth.  It is also possible that the results mean that potential homebuyers see several reasons to return to the wait and see attitude that helped flatten the market in 2011 and 2012.

According to Fannie Mae, the share of respondents who still believe the economy is headed in the wrong direction remained at 57 percent last month while the right track numbers rose from 35 percent to 38 percent. 

"Consumers' lukewarm income expectations and reticence about the economy seem to be holding back housing demand," said Doug Duncan, senior vice president and chief economist at Fannie Mae. "This year's spring and summer home buying season has gotten off to a slow start, even as mortgage rates have trended lower over the past two months. Our National Housing Survey data show that economic conditions continue to be the top concern among consumers who think it's a bad time to buy or sell a home. While recent housing activity suggests that the worst of the housing slump may be behind us, this caution among consumers supports our expectation that the rebound in home sales will likely be too modest to pull sales for all of 2014 ahead of last year."

Or maybe potential homebuyers are putting plans on hold because they think there might be more opportunities ahead, most notably in the area of home values.  Prices have risen rapidly since bottoming out in early 2012, and in some areas such as California this, coupled with higher rates, has dramatically reduced affordability.  In the May survey the share of respondents who say home prices will go up in the next 12 months fell to 48 percent, and the share who say home prices will go down increased to 7 percent.  Among those who expect prices to continue to increase the average increase held steady at 2.9 percent.



At the same time the percentage of those who expect further increases in mortgage interest rates fell from 52 percent to 49 percent.  The number looking for lower rates also went down from 7 to 5 percent while those who expect that rates have stabilized was unchanged at 38 percent for the third consecutive month.  

Those who say it is a good time to buy a house fell slightly to 68 percent, and those who say it is a good time to sell a house increased to 43 percent, a new all-time survey high.

A slight majority of respondents expect rents to increase over the next year.  Just over 50 percent have expressed that since at least last May but the number who expect rents to decline rose this month from 43 to 39 percent.  The average 12-month rental price change expectation decreased slightly to 3.9 percent.



Forty-nine percent of respondents thought it would be easy for them to get a home mortgage today, rising 4 percentage points from last month.  The share who say they would buy if they were going to move increased slightly to 66 percent. 

The percentage of respondents who expect their personal financial situation to get better over the next 12 months fell slightly to 42 percent.    The share of respondents who say their household income is significantly higher than it was 12 months ago decreased 4 percentage points to 21 percent.  At the same time there did seem to be some improvement in household finances.  The share of respondents who said their household expenses had declined significantly rose 3 points while the number who said expenses had risen fell 5 points.  



The most detailed consumer attitudinal survey of its kind, the Fannie Mae National Housing Survey polled 1,000 Americans via live telephone interview to assess their attitudes toward owning and renting a home, home and rental price changes, homeownership distress, the economy, household finances, and overall consumer confidence. Homeowners and renters are asked more than 100 questions used to track attitudinal shifts from month to month dating back to the survey's origination in June 2010.