Morgan Stanley
  • Thoughts on the Market Podcast
  • Jan 20, 2022

2022 US Housing Outlook: Strong Foundations but Reduced Affordability


James Egan: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm James Egan, co-head of U.S. Securitized Products Research here at Morgan Stanley,

Jay Bacow: And I'm Jay Bacow, the other co-head of U.S. Securitized Products Research.

James Egan: And on this edition of the podcast, we'll be talking about the 2022 outlook for the U.S. housing market. It's Thursday, January 20th at 10:00 a.m. in New York.

James Egan: All right, Jay. Now, since we published the outlook for 2022, the market has already priced in a much more hawkish Fed and Fed board members really haven't been pushing back. We've now priced in 100 basis points of hikes in 2022 in addition to quantitative tightening. How does this change how you're thinking about the mortgage market?

Jay Bacow: When we went into the year, we thought that mortgage spreads looked pretty tight and thought they were going to go wider, and that was in a world where we just thought the Fed was going to be tapering and stop buying mortgages, but still reinvesting. Now that they're pricing in that the Fed is going to be hiking rates and normalizing their balance sheet, mortgage spreads have widened about 20 basis points this year, but we think they have further room to go. This is because a normalizing Fed is going to mean that the supply to the market in conjunction with the net issuance is going to be the highest that the private market has ever had to digest. So, we think that could push spreads about 10 or 15 basis points wider, which is going to weigh on mortgage rates, but mortgage rates have already been going up. They are about 3/8 of a point higher just over the last month. And when we forecast mortgage spreads and interest rates to go higher over the next year, we think this could end up with about a full point rise in mortgage rates this year.

Jay Bacow: So, Jim, a point move higher in mortgage rates. What does that do to affordability?

James Egan: The short answer is no; they don't help affordability. For people who've been listening to our podcast before, affordability largely has three main components: home prices, mortgage rates and incomes. And so, if we're talking about mortgage rates, a full 100 basis points higher, that's going to be bad for affordability. But look, this just reinforces what we're thinking about affordability with respect to the housing market as we look ahead to 2022. In our outlook, we described affordability as the chief headwind to home prices and housing activity this year. Looking back to the end of 2021, home prices were climbing at a record pace of growth. And one of the good things about this climb is we think it's been healthier than the prior times that HPA even approached these levels. We got to almost 20% year over year growth because of the fact that we had an historically tight supply environment, and we had a lot of demand, and that demand was not being stimulated by easing lending standards. Lending standards themselves remained very responsible.

James Egan: But just because the foundation of the housing market today is healthy, and we believe it is, that doesn't mean it can't be too expensive. As home prices were climbing, mortgage rates continued to fall to record lows, and that really acted as a release valve with respect to affordability in the market. That release valve has already been turned off. Mortgage rates climbed throughout 2021. We expected them to climb in 2022. Yes, we now see them climbing faster than we anticipated, but that release Valve, as I mentioned, was already turned off. Affordability was already a substantial headwind in our call.

Jay Bacow: All right, Jim. So, we've talked about affordability. Can you remind us where do home prices currently stand? Haven't they started to come down a little bit?

James Egan: Yes. Home prices have been slowing for two months now. And it's becoming more pervasive geographically.

James Egan: As recently as July, 100 of the top 100 metro areas in the country, were not only seeing home prices grow year over year, but that pace of growth was accelerating. Five months later, the most recent data we have there is November, it's fallen from 100 out of 100 to 38 out of 100 metro areas, still seeing acceleration. The other 62? They're still climbing. But the pace of that growth has slowed.

Jay Bacow: All right, so home price growth is slowing. Does this mean that it just continues to slow and home prices actually go negative this year?

James Egan: We do think that home price growth will continue to slow, but we definitively think it will remain positive. We do not see home price growth going negative on a year over year basis. One of the biggest reasons there: healthy lending standards that we mentioned earlier. That kind of responsible underwriting we think keeps distressed transactions, so delinquencies - really foreclosures. It keeps those distressed transactions limited, and you really need an increase in the concentration of distressed transactions to see home price growth turn negative, or to see home prices turn negative.

James Egan: One of the other things we talked about affordability that we do think is playing a role in the housing market is supply. The supply market is at historical tights right now. That contributes to the healthy foundation that we see the housing market sitting on. We do think we are going to start to see a supply increase on the margins next year. Existing inventories continue to fall, but new inventories have been up over 30% year over year each of the past four months. While single unit starts might not be climbing at the same pace today as they were early in 2021, if we look at the number of single unit homes under construction today, that's surpassed the number of multi-unit homes under construction for the first time since 2013. We do think that will mean more supply coming on the market next year.

James Egan: The overall environment will be tight. But we will no longer be able to say historically tight. We will see positive year over year changes. That also weighs on the pace of home price growth, which is why we see it slowing to 5% by 2022.

Jay Bacow: OK, but Jim, you talked about supply and how that's been picking up recently, but that was based off of a period when mortgage rates are lower than they are today. What is this forecasted rise in mortgage rates mean for your expectations for housing activity going forward for the rest of 2022?

James Egan: So I think there's a few ways that this rise in mortgage rates can impact housing activity. The I think most straightforward way to think about it is on the affordability spectrum that we've been talking about. It's going to make the carrying cost, the debt service of housing those mortgage payments more expensive for households. And that affordability problem is going to weigh on purchase decisions that, as I mentioned earlier, reinforces what we were already thinking about the housing market this year. It also contributes to a lock in effect - borrowers that have homes at lower mortgage rates, it now increases their opportunity costs to move. They'd have to take on a larger mortgage if they were to move their home, and so it weighs on supply as well.

James Egan: We see it leading to a decrease in existing home sales. So home prices will slow, but they'll remain positive. We do think that home sales are going to fall. Throughout the totality of 2022 we see existing home sales coming in about 5% below where they'll finish 2021.

Jay Bacow: All right. So basically, a more hawkish Fed has meant that mortgage spreads have widened out and mortgage rates are heading higher. This has led to reduced affordability, which is also going to cause a bit of a slowdown in home sale activity and a slowdown in home price appreciation. But home prices will still near higher than where they are now. I got that right?

James Egan: Absolutely.

James Egan: Jay, thanks for taking the time to chat.

Jay Bacow: Always a pleasure, Jim.

James Egan: As a reminder, if you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please take a moment to rate and review us on the Apple Podcasts app. It helps more people find the show.

The foundation for the housing market remains healthy in 2022, with responsible lending standards and a tight supply environment, but, as the year continues, affordability challenges and a more hawkish Fed will likely slow appreciation and dampen housing activity.

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