A Silver Lining to the Slim Pickings for Homebuyers

Number of the Day: The most relevant or interesting figure in personal finance

37.8%

That’s how much the U.S. inventory of homes for sale has shrunk in the last two years, according to new Zillow data, showing not only how skimpy the selection is these days, but that the end of pandemic relief measures hasn’t forced that many homeowners to sell.

There were 1.04 million homes for sale in November, 6.1% fewer than in October, 17.5% fewer than last November, and 37.8% fewer than in November 2019, the real estate company said in a report Friday. While a decline in housing inventory is typical for this time of year, the drop from October was larger than usual and especially surprised economists at Zillow who had expected the end of relief measures this fall to trigger a wave of hardship selling.

When the pandemic sent unemployment rates soaring last year, the government and lenders gave homeowners some breathing room by prohibiting foreclosures and offering forbearance programs that let homeowners skip or lower payments without penalty for up to 18 months. Some economists feared there would be a wave of forced sales or even foreclosures when the clock started to run out on those forbearances, but it appears other pandemic-era government aid helped homeowners weather the period better than expected, said Nicole Bachaud, an economist at Zillow.

"It definitely worked,” Bachaud said of the forbearance and other forms of pandemic relief such as stimulus checks. “It kept people in their homes.” 

If there’s a downside to the apparent success of mortgage relief programs, it’s that there’s no end in sight for the low inventory and rapidly rising prices the housing market has seen in the pandemic era, Bachaud said.

Have a question, comment, or story to share? You can reach Diccon at dhyatt@thebalance.com.

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