These 40 ‘overvalued’ housing markets could see 15% to 20% home price declines if a recession hits

·4 min read

A housing bubble requires both a rush of speculators entering into the market and "overvalued" home prices. Oh, and the bust at the end, of course.

Unlike the housing bubble that popped in 2008, the pandemic housing boom isn’t underpinned by a frenzy of speculation, Moody’s Analytics chief economist Mark Zandi says. While home flipping has certainly ticked up during the pandemic, he says, we aren’t seeing the exuberance of the last bubble.

So is the coast clear? Well, not so fast. While Zandi won’t call this latest boom—which has sent U.S. home prices up 37% over the past two years—a bubble, his research finds that we're once again amid a historically "overvalued" housing market.

Last week, Moody's Analytics gave Fortune exclusive access to its updated proprietary analysis of U.S. housing markets. The firm aimed to find out whether fundamentals, including local income levels, could support local home prices. The finding? Through the first quarter of 2022, national house prices are "overvalued" by 24.7%. That's up from the fourth quarter of last year, when Moody’s Analytics determined national house prices were "overvalued" by 20.9%.

Let’s be clear: That doesn't mean Moody’s Analytics thinks U.S. home prices are about to drop by 24%. Instead, what it means is that home prices are, historically speaking, priced very high relative to household incomes. Now that we've reached this level, Zandi says, it will make it harder for home price growth to push upwards. Indeed, Zandi is predicting the year-over-year rate of home price growth will flatline to 0% by this time next year.

But not every regional housing market will be so lucky. While Zandi doesn’t predict national home price declines, he estimates significantly "overvalued" housing markets, places like Boise and Charlotte, could see 5% to 10% home price declines over the next 12 months. If a recession actually materializes—something Moody’s Analytics gives a 1-in-2 chance of occurring over the next 24 months—then Zandi says national home prices could fall by around 5%. Meanwhile, if a recession hits, Zandi says, those significantly "overvalued" housing markets would likely see home prices slashed by 15% to 20%.

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Among the 413 regional housing markets measured by Moody's Analytics, the firm deems 96% are "overvalued." Simply put: Nearly the entire country has house prices that are higher than underlying fundamentals would historically support.

Among the markets analyzed by Moody’s Analytics, 183 are "overvalued" by more than 25%. That's up from 150 regional housing markets it deemed "overvalued" by more than 25% in the fourth quarter of 2021. The most "overvalued" markets are concentrated in fast-growing cities in the Mountain West and Sunbelt that benefited from the nation's work-from-home boom. That includes both Boise ("overvalued" by 72%) and Charlotte ("overvalued" by 66%).

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Among those "overvalued" housing markets, which ones are actually likely to see home prices fall? In order, Zandi points to these "juiced-up" regional housing markets: Boise; Colorado Springs, Colo.; Las Vegas; Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; Tampa; Atlanta; Fort Collins, Colo.; Sherman, Texas; Jacksonville; Idaho Falls, Idaho; Lakeland, Fla.; Greeley, Colo.; Longview, Wash.; Charleston, S.C.; Albany, N.Y.; Denver; Clarksville, Tenn.; Greensboro, N.C.; and Charlotte.

Already we’re seeing the U.S. housing market shift. As data rolls in for May and June, it's clear that the pandemic’s housing boom has finally fizzled out. New home sales, existing home sales, and mortgage applications are plummeting. That’s forcing some sellers to do what three months ago would have sounded absurd: They're cutting their price. Last week, 6.44% of home listings on Zillow saw a price cut—the highest weekly share of price cuts in more than five years.

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Where does the housing market head from here? For the next several months, housing economists tell Fortune we should expect further slowing.

Zandi goes further. He's already calling this slowdown a "housing correction." Heading forward, he says, we'll see home sales continue to fall sharply as more home shoppers balk at record home prices. But it isn't just because home prices got too high. Over the past six months, the average 30-year fixed mortgage rate has spiked from 3.2% to 5.85% as the Fed gets serious about tackling inflation. That’s causing many borrowers, who must meet lenders’ strict debt-to-income ratios, to lose their mortgage eligibility.

"The housing market is rolling over," Zandi says.

If you’re hungry for more housing data, follow me on Twitter at @NewsLambert.

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