(WASHINGTON) — Major housing industry groups voiced “profound concern” in a letter this week urging the Federal Reserve to stop raising interest rates.
The rare public admonishment from top business advocates — including the National Association of Realtors and the National Association of Home Builders — underscores a dramatic slowdown in the housing market due in large part to rising interest rates.
The letter arrives roughly three weeks before the Fed plans to make its latest rate-hike decision.
Mortgage rates have reached their highest level in more than two decades and they have continued to rise. Data released on Thursday showed that mortgage rates increased for the fifth consecutive week, according to Freddie Mac.
“The speed and magnitude of these [mortgage] rate increases, and resulting dislocation in our industry, is painful and unprecedented,” the letter from the housing groups said.
Here’s what to know about why real estate groups called on the Fed to stop raising rates:
What’s happening in the housing market?
Sky-high mortgage rates have dramatically slowed the housing market, since homebuyers have balked at stiff borrowing costs and home sellers have opted to stay on mortgages that lock them into relatively low rates.
Mortgage applications have fallen to their lowest level since 1996, the Mortgage Brokers Association said earlier this month.
Sales of previously owned homes, meanwhile, have plummeted more than 15% compared to a year ago, the National Association of Realtors found in August.
The slowdown has coincided with a sharp rise in costs for potential homebuyers.
The average interest rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage has climbed to nearly 7.6%, Freddie Mac data shows.
When the Fed initiated the rise of bond yields with its first rate hike of the current series in March 2022, the average 30-year fixed mortgage stood at just 4.45%.
Each percentage point increase in a mortgage rate can add thousands or tens of thousands in additional costs each year, depending on the price of the house, according to Rocket Mortgage.
What role is the Federal Reserve playing in the housing market slowdown?
An aggressive series of interest rate hikes at the Federal Reserve since last year has pushed up the 10-year Treasury yield, which loosely tracks with long-term mortgage rates.
The Fed has fought elevated inflation with borrowing cost increases as it tries to slash price hikes by slowing the economy and choking off demand.
While inflation has fallen significantly from a peak of about 9% last summer, price increases remain more than a percentage point higher than the Fed’s inflation target.
Price increases held steady in September, fresh data on Thursday showed, suggesting that elevated inflation remains resistant to the interest rate hikes.
The persistence of elevated inflation has prompted the Fed to espouse a policy of holding interest rates at high levels for a prolonged period, which in turn has increased the 10-year Treasury yield and put upward pressure on mortgage rates.
Moreover, the Fed expects to raise rates one more time this year, according to projections released last month.
Speaking at a press conference in Washington, D.C., last month, Fed Chair Jerome Powell acknowledged the continued effect of interest rates on mortgages, noting that activity in the housing market “remains well below levels of a year ago, largely reflecting higher mortgage rates.”
What do the housing industry groups want the Fed to do?
Housing industry advocates want the Fed to take swift actions that reassure investors and other market participants of an end to the policies cooling the industry.
Most notably, the industry groups want the central bank to release a statement saying that it has abandoned consideration of additional rate hikes.
In their letter to Fed officials, the housing groups cautioned that a further slowdown in real estate could help tip the U.S. economy into a recession, scuttling the central bank’s effort to achieve a “soft landing.”
“We urge the Fed to take these simple steps to ensure that this sector does not precipitate the hard landing the Fed has tried so hard to avoid,” the letter said.
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