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Conor Sen

Housing Is Hot With the Economy in the Deep Freeze

A slowdown in construction and a halt to foreclosures squeezed supply, while low rates spurred demand.

Coming soon, just not soon enough.

Coming soon, just not soon enough.

Photographer: Matthew Staver/Bloomberg

No matter how you look at it, the economic fallout from the coronavirus is going to be brutal, with a projected 6.5% decline in real gross domestic product in 2020 and an unemployment rate of 9.3% at year-end, according to the Federal Reserve. In ordinary times, and without any policy response from government, a blow of this magnitude should weaken the housing market.

Yet, what we're starting to see is the very opposite. For various reasons, the supply of homes on the market continues to fall to record lows and home prices are, if anything, accelerating. For many homeowners stressed about the value of their biggest investment, it's a welcome relief. But this signals one more hurdle for would-be millennial homebuyers as they age into their family-forming years.

The biggest reason we're seeing home-price growth accelerating in the middle of a pandemic is that the disruption to the supply of housing is persisting longer than the disruption to demand -- that is, would-be buyers. Wednesday's weekly mortgage data showed that purchase applications rose for the eighth consecutive week and are approaching an 11-year high on a seasonally adjusted basis. Part of the reason for the quick rebound in demand is surely the decline in interest rates on mortgages to all-time lows, with few signs they are likely to rise for the foreseeable future.