Despite hesitant would-be sellers, home buying sentiment is improving

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While historically low mortgage rates continued to fuel a hot housing market, uncertainty around coronavirus response and uncertainty ahead of the election kept consumer confidence in check in October, according to Fannie Mae.

The Home Purchase Sentiment Index rose again to 81.7 last month, up slightly from 81 in September. However, the index trails the year-ago level of 88.8, given in part a drop in seller enthusiasm seen last year.

Selling sentiment had a net positive score of 24 percentage points in October, a 6-point improvement from September, but a 17-point drop year-over-year. Seller optimism stands at 59%. Consumer attitude for buying a home skewed positive by 25 percentage points. The share of "good time to buy" hit 60%, jumping 9 points month-to-month and 4 percentage points from October 2019.

About 49% of borrowers expect mortgage rates to stay the same in the next 12 months while 32% predict them to increase and 11% to decrease. The net share who forecast rising rates fell 6 percentage points from September and 4 percentage points from the year before.

"To date, the HPSI has recovered over 60% of its COVID-19 pandemic loss, reflecting the bright spot that the mortgage market has been in the economy," Doug Duncan, senior vice president and chief economist at Fannie Mae, said in a press release.

Meanwhile, the two measures of sentiment related to employment weakened.

Job loss concerns heightened in October, with the net portion of consumers not worried falling to 58%. That's down 9 percentage points month-over-month and 14 points year-over-year. In correlation, the net share of households reporting a significantly higher income from the past 12 months shrunk to 3%, declining 4 percentage points from September and 13 points from October 2019.

A growing faction of survey respondents forecast home prices to drop in the next year. October's 20% net share of growing home price expectations fell 4 points from September and 7 points from the year earlier.

"The continuing evolution of the pandemic and the 2020 election outcomes may have longer lasting and unexpected impacts on consumer sentiment, as we saw following the 2016 elections, and we expect both factors will shape the housing market over the coming months," Duncan said.

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Purchase Housing market Mortgage rates Home prices Fannie Mae Economy Employment data