Fannie Mae sees results from its most recent National Housing Survey (NHS) as possibly portending a pickup in home buying and selling activity this spring. Results of the survey show that despite recent month-to-month volatility in housing markets and a softening of the recovery, many consumer attitudes have continued to move in a positive direction.
The share of the March survey respondents who say it is a good time to sell a home jumped four percentage points from February's level to 38 percent, up from 26 percent in March 2013. Those who thought it was a good time to buy increased one point to 68, two points below responses one year earlier.
While 54 percent of respondents expect mortgage rates to increase over the next 12 months and virtually none expect them to go down, the majority believe they could easily get a mortgage. The percentage giving that answer increased to 52 percent, tying the all-time survey high of 52 set in January, a number which dropped sharply to 45 percent in February.
Attitudes toward home prices also stabilized during the month. Those who expect prices to continue to increase over the next 12 months went from 52 percent of respondents in February to 48 while those who expected prices to stay the same increased by four points to 42 percent. Among those expecting further price increases the intensity of those hikes slowed from an average of 3.2 percent to 2.7 percent.
Americans' attitudes regarding their personal finances also improved - those who expect their financial situation to worsen during the next 12 months decreased to 12 percent, a significant drop from 21 percent at the same time last year, and the share who say their personal financial situation improved during the past year reached an all-time survey high of 40 percent.
The right track/wrong track responses however remain highly negative. Those who feel the economy is on the wrong track increased one percentage point to 58 percent, precisely where it was one year ago, while right track answers dropped two points to 33 compared to 35 in March 2013.
A slight majority of respondents expect further rent increases with the average price change decreasing on basis point to 4.2 percent.
Despite it all, the share of survey participants who say they would buy if they were going to move increased 2 percentage points to 68 percent.
"The housing recovery continues to proceed in fits and starts. Rising mortgage rates and a lack of supply have dampened housing market momentum," said Doug Duncan, senior vice president and chief economist at Fannie Mae. "However, we see several positive signs going into this year's spring home buying season, compared with last year. For example, consumers are less pessimistic about their personal finances, and more optimistic about the current selling environment and their ability to get a mortgage. Still, those who are pessimistic about buying or selling a home today tend to point to economic conditions as the primary issue, and most consumers continue to say the economy is on the wrong track. Looking forward, we expect to see a pickup in economic growth later in the year, and this may boost the confidence of prospective buyers and sellers."
Fannie Mae's NHS is conducted monthly by phone among 1,000 Americans. Participants include renters and homeowners both with and without a mortgage who are asked about 100 questions 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. The March 2014 Fannie Mae National Housing Survey was conducted between March 1, 2014 and March 23, 2014.