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Real Estate Research provided analysis of topical research and current issues in the fields of housing and real estate economics. Authors for the blog included the Atlanta Fed's Jessica Dill, Kristopher Gerardi, Carl Hudson, and analysts, as well as the Boston Fed's Christopher Foote and Paul Willen.

In December 2020, content from Real Estate Research became part of Policy Hub. Future articles will be released in Policy Hub: Macroblog.

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October 14, 2020

Assessing the Size and Spread of Vulnerable Renter Households in the Southeast

Editor's note: In December, Real Estate Research will become part of the Atlanta Fed's Policy Hub publication.
"If you can get the right tool targeted and aimed at the right problem, you can solve that problem and make a lot of progress."

- Raphael Bostic, Atlanta Fed President, during Racism and the Economy video fileOff-site link webinar (around the 1 hour, 58 minute timestamp) on October 7, 2020

Many cities have begun their efforts to combat COVID-19-related housing effects on renters by estimating the number of affected households, claiming federal CARES Act relief funds, and distributing the funds to households in need through local organizations. More than likely, the number of vulnerable households will exceed the funds that have been made available to assist them. In this post, we continue our data exploration of households that are likely to be vulnerable to housing insecurity as a result of COVID-19.

Picking up where we left off in our July 13 blog post, we focus exclusively on renter households and explore regional variations in the estimated impacts to renters susceptible to COVID-19-related job loss across the Atlanta Fed's territory, the Sixth District, which covers much of the southeastern United States (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and portions of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee). As we did for our national-level analysis, we adopt New York University's Furman Center methodology1 and we focus on the intersection of income, cost-burdened status, dwelling unit type, and race in an effort to better understand the distributional impact across renter households. The estimates we provide here can be used to highlight opportunities for targeted local responses. Localities can also use these estimates to assess whether, and how well, their disbursed funds are reaching those most in need. Further, this analysis can help policymakers and local leaders anticipate the gap between their pool of existing resources and the level of support they may ultimately need, given the estimated size and spread of renter household vulnerability. In short, we hope this work can help localities sharpen their tools and better identify their problems as they work to combat rental housing insecurity resulting from COVID-19.

Sixth District regional trends
We took a combined look at nine metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) across the Sixth District: Atlanta, Georgia; Bay County, Florida; Birmingham, Alabama; Gulfport, Mississippi; Jacksonville, Florida; Miami, Florida; Nashville, Tennessee; New Orleans, Louisiana; and Orlando, Florida. We estimate there to be nearly 1.05 million renter households (or 16.9 percent of all renter households in the nine MSAs) that may be vulnerable to job loss tied to the COVID-19 pandemic. Using microdata from the Census Bureau's 2018 American Community Survey (ACS) provided by IPUMS USA, University of MinnesotaOff-site link,2 we estimate that:

  • More than half of vulnerable renter households had incomes less than $50,000 (593,202, or 56.9 percent).
  • Going into the pandemic, slightly more than half of vulnerable renter households (532,231, or 51 percent) were cost-burdened—that is, they were spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs.
  • Looking deeper into the cross-section of income and housing-cost burden, a whopping 87.6 percent of cost-burdened renter households vulnerable to COVID-19-related job loss earned less than $50,000.

Targeting aid to cost-burdened households earning less than $50,000 could be important because these households face steeper challenges than others in maintaining emergency savings. In fact, according to data from the Federal Reserve's 2019 Survey of Household Economics and DecisionmakingOff-site link, households earning under $50,000 are less likely to have a three-month rainy-day fund than households who earn more than $50,000, making it more difficult for this demographic to weather such a shock to their income as reduced work hours, temporary furlough, or job loss.

We also estimate that an overwhelming majority of renter households vulnerable to COVID-19-related job loss (902,656, or 86.7 percent) either lived in single-family rentals (392,978) or rentals in buildings with fewer than 50 units (509,678).

By ensuring that aid is directed to renter households residing in single-family houses, small multifamily buildings (two to four units), or medium multifamily buildings (five to 49 units), rental relief efforts are more likely to reach smaller-scale landlords as opposed to institutional landlords. Smaller landlords are more likely to operate on thinner margins, leaving them unable to offset an extended period of time when they can't collect rents. If these smaller-scale landlords fail, the stock of housing they provide—housing that tends to be more affordable3 and supports an overwhelming majority of renter households—could change hands and displace many lower-income tenants as a result.

And finally, we estimate that:

  • Over two-thirds of vulnerable renter households (703,896, or 67.5 percent) self-identify as a race other than non-Hispanic white.4
  • Nearly three-fourths of cost-burdened renter households vulnerable to job loss were categorized as a race other than non-Hispanic white (390,154, or 73 percent).

Acknowledging the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 related job loss on renter households of color and targeting aid towards these households could help to prevent any exacerbation of existing racial disparities.

Metro-level trends
While summary statistics at the regional level provide a helpful reference point, we also drill down further because policy responses such as emergency rent relief and eviction moratoria5 are much more likely to be implemented at the local level. The first animated GIF below presents estimates of vulnerable renter households by income, cost-burden status, and dwelling unit type.6

chart 01 of 02: Renter Households vulnerable to COVID-19-related job loss

A few additional observations emerge beyond what we've cited at the regional level.

First, although the majority of renter households susceptible to job loss earn less than $50,000, metros with more than 450,000 people (specifically Atlanta, Miami, Nashville, and Orlando) tend to have vulnerable households across a broader income distribution. Put differently, in larger metro areas, renter households can have slightly higher incomes and still experience housing vulnerability.

Second, as we cited in the regional trends above, vulnerable renters are most likely to reside in single-family units or multifamily buildings with fewer than 50 units. It could be argued, though, that this is to be expected given that most renters in any metropolitan area live in single-family homes or small- to medium-sized multifamily buildings. We applied a chi-squared test to understand whether vulnerable renters were statistically more likely than other renters to reside in buildings with fewer than 50 units and found that, indeed, there was a statistical difference for all of the metropolitan areas we examined except for Jacksonville.

Third, Miami (59.5 percent), New Orleans (56.7 percent), and Orlando (51.8 percent) had shares of cost-burdened and vulnerable renters above 50 percent, which stood out as elevated relative to the other metropolitan areas we examined.

Finally, given the well-documented disproportionate impact that COVID-19 is having on people of colorOff-site link, we take our regional-level analysis one step further than our national-level analysis and substitute a racial lens (white versus nonwhite)7 for the cost-burdened lens in an effort to analyze the distributional impacts of COVID-19-related job loss by renter household race. The second animated GIF, below, presents estimates of vulnerable renter households by income, race, and dwelling unit type.

chart 02 of 02: Renter Households vulnerable to Covid-19-related job loss, by household income and units in structure

As the charts demonstrate, the distribution of race across income and dwelling unit type varies by metropolitan area. To better assess whether or not there might be disparate exposure to COVID-19 housing vulnerability across race, we compare the race of vulnerable renter versus the race of all renter households for each metropolitan area (see the table).

table 01 of 01: Comparison of All Renter and Vulnerable Renter for Non-White Renter Households

While each metropolitan area's share of renter households of color appears to be similar to the shares of estimated vulnerable renter households identifying as races other than non-Hispanic white, a chi-squared test revealed that the two shares are in fact statistically different for all of the metropolitan areas except Jacksonville.8 In other words, our analysis is consistent with the idea that the pandemic may be causing a disproportionate hardship on households of color. As a result, failure to respond with targeted policy interventions for vulnerable renter households is likely to have an outsized impact on households of color. Localities may be well-served to carefully consider race as they design and evaluate their programs that support vulnerable renters to ensure that they aren't inadvertently exacerbating existing racial disparities.

Taken together, the intersection of these metrics can help localities better understand the scale of the COVID-19-related rental vulnerabilities in their communities, particularly as those vulnerabilities may exacerbate existing inequities along racial lines. We hope that this analysis, which highlights the greatest housing vulnerabilities in communities across the Southeast, provides policymakers and leaders on every level with insights that will help them respond to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and emerge with an inclusive recovery plan. In that process, the estimates provided above can be used as a planning and advocacy tool, as well as a benchmark to help evaluate how needs have been met.

Technical Notes

1 [back] The methodologyOff-site link we used was developed by New York University's Furman Center at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. It incorporated all occupations that may have been vulnerable to job loss at the time. We have not updated their methodology to consider the current work status of each occupation. Therefore, these estimates likely overcount affected households and therefore should be treated as a ceiling for the estimated number of vulnerable households.

2 [back]  To look at the intersection of income, cost-burdened status, dwelling type, and race, we use microdata from the Census Bureau's 2018 American Community Survey, as provided by IPUMS USA, University of MinnesotaOff-site link. Census microdata are not (necessarily) available down to the city level, to protect the anonymity of respondents, so all analysis above was conducted at the metropolitan-level using aggregated PUMA, or Public Use Microdata AreasOff-site link, data.

3 [back]  B. Y. An, R. W. Bostic, A. Jakabovics, A. Orlando, and S. Rodnyansky, "Why Are Small and Medium Multifamily Properties So Inexpensive?Off-site link" Journal of Real Estate Finance and Economics (2019).

4 [back]  The ACS categorizes Hispanic/Latino/Spanish as an ethnicity and not a race. For the purpose of this analysis, we group Hispanic/Latino/Spanish identification with other nonwhite racial responses in an effort to track inequality between exclusively self-reporting white respondents and all other respondents. See H. V. Strmic-Pawl, B. A. Jackson, and S. Garner, "Race Counts: Racial and Ethnic Data on the U.S. Census and the Implications for Tracking InequalityOff-site link," Sociology of Race and Ethnicity, 2018, Vol 4(I) 1–13.

5 [back]  That latest status of eviction moratoria is being tracked by Princeton University's Eviction Lab (here) and the National Low-Income Housing Coalition (hereOff-site link). An overview of properties covered by the CARES ACT eviction moratorium can be found here.

6 [back]  The data behind the animated GIFs, as well as an interactive tool presenting this same data, can be found here. In addition to selecting the metropolitan area of interest, the web tool gives the user the ability to filter the metropolitan-level household estimates by a more granular breakdown of race.

7 [back]  As outlined in a previous footnote, we refer to all households coded by the 2018 American Community Survey as non-Hispanic white as "white." We refer to all households coded as anything other than non-Hispanic white as "nonwhite" or "households of color." Nonwhite and households of color include those households who identify as Hispanic.

8 [back]  As we mention in footnote 4, we group households who identify as Hispanic/Latino/Spanish with nonwhite racial responses. As a robustness check, we recoded and reran our racial analysis a second time, shifting households who identified as Hispanic and white from the nonwhite category to the white category. Interestingly, this change in categorization does matter, as reflected by the different results. A chi-squared test revealed that the share of vulnerable nonwhite renter households is statistically different from the overall share of nonwhite renter households for all of the metropolitan areas we examined except Bay County and Nashville.

July 13, 2020

What's Being Done to Help Renters during the Pandemic?

As we pointed out in our most recent post, the principal policy response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. mortgage market has been forbearance. Support for renters, on the other hand, has been much less widespread. Now that states and cities have received CARES Act funds, allocation strategies are starting to surface (for example, hereOff-site link and hereOff-site link). A common element among these strategies is the formation of emergency assistance funds for renters.

While household income most certainly will be considered in qualifying renter households for aid, other factors—like household cost burden and property type—may serve not only to channel funds to those feeling the economic effect of COVID-19, but also to help municipalities preserve their limited stock of affordable housing units. In this post, we attempt to provide greater insight on the types of affected households with the goal of helping policymakers design a relief program that reaches households most in need.

Vulnerable households
New York University's Furman Center looked at New York City householdsOff-site link and identified those that were likely to have members in occupations vulnerable to job layoffs. We applied the Furman Center methodology to national 2018 American Community Survey data and found that 37.8 percent of all U.S. households may be vulnerable to COVID-19-related income loss (we'll refer to these as vulnerable households). As chart 1 shows, the 34.3 million households vulnerable to COVID-related job loss span the income spectrum.

chart 01 of 02: All households vulnerable to COVID-19-related job loss

The majority of vulnerable households are owner occupied (58.4 percent, or 20 million). Moreover, these vulnerable owner-occupied households tend to have incomes greater than $50,000 per year, live in single-family homes, and are less likely to have been cost-burdened1 going into the COVID-19 downturn. As we noted above, the vast majority of these owner-occupied vulnerable households have access to relief via widespread mortgage forbearance.

Honing in on the estimated 14.3 million vulnerable renter-occupied households, we see a more concerning picture emerge (see chart 2). Renter-occupied households vulnerable to COVID-related job loss also span the income distribution. Strikingly, though not surprisingly, the share of renter-occupied households that cost-burdened and vulnerable is disproportionately concentrated at the bottom of the income distribution. Put differently, 86 percent of the cost-burdened and vulnerable renter-occupied households (that is, the dark blue shaded portion of chart 2) earn less than $50,000. In other words, going into the COVID-19 downturn, the lower-income renter-occupied households who were employed in occupations most likely to suffer wage disruptions were already stretched thin and spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs.

chart 02 of 02: Renter households vulnerable to COVID-19-related job loss

In contrast to the picture for all vulnerable households, cost-burdened and vulnerable renter households are more likely to reside in properties with fewer than 50 units.

Small and medium multifamily housing units and affordability
Rent shortfalls in single-family rental properties and rental properties with 2–49 units are particularly worrisome because these properties are more likely to be owned by "mom-and-pop" investors and not institutional investors, according to a May 26 Joint Center for Housing Studies postOff-site link. Mom-and-pop investors may not have the financial cushion necessary to weather the shortfall and cover ongoing costs, in turn making these properties more likely to become distressed and be sold.

Importantly, a paper by An et al.Off-site link has established that, controlling for important differences, properties with 2–49 units often sell at a discount compared to single-family properties and properties with 50 or more units, thus making them a source of unsubsidized affordable housing.2 For this reason, it seems clear that directing rental assistance to these vulnerable households below the $50,000 income threshold living in properties with 2–49 units would target those most in need of assistance. Moreover, such targeting could preserve the already-insufficient supply of affordable units and prevent a greater deficit. It seems clear that directing rental assistance to these vulnerable households below the $50,000 income threshold living in properties with 2–49 units would target those most in need of assistance. Moreover, such targeting could preserve the already-insufficient supply of affordable units and prevent a greater deficit.

States and municipalities across the U.S. are still in the process of trying to understand (1) how many households are suffering from lost wages due to COVID-19, (2) how much financial support is needed to help these households weather the storm, and (3) what is an equitable way to design the relief program so that it reaches households most in need? Much of the research we've cited in this post can provide insight into the number of households and the required degree of financial support.

While evidence suggests that the one-time stimulus checks and expanded unemployment insurance benefits under the CARES Act have helped households meet their obligations (see this June 17 reportOff-site link from the Urban Institute and this May 27 macroblog for more in-depth discussion), there are concerns about the balance sheets of households and impending housing market distress when these benefits expire. Of particular concern are renter households with members who are in occupations vulnerable to job layoffs—especially given that many areas are slowing or reversing the pace of reopening. The emergency rental assistance funds that cities are designing will likely serve as an important backstop for many rental households. Because the number of renter households in need of support will undoubtedly exceed the amount of funds that have been earmarked to support them, a strategic response may very well be one that directs the funds to households demonstrating the greatest need, and doing so would also work to preserve a limited stock of affordable units.

Though we provide a national-level snapshot in this post, this analysis can easily be tailored to finer levels of geography. In future posts, we will take a closer look at several of the largest cities in the Atlanta Fed's Sixth District to provide estimates for the number of vulnerable households while spotlighting similarities and differences in the distributions of the affected population.

1 [back] A household is considered cost-burdened if it spends more than 30 percent of its monthly income on housing costs (including utilities).

2 [back] B. Y. An, R. W. Bostic, A. Jakabovics, A. Orlando, and S. Rodnyansky, "Why Are Small and Medium Multifamily Properties So Inexpensive?Off-site link" Journal of Real Estate Finance and Economics (2019).

July 2, 2020

An Update on Forbearance Trends

So far, the principal policy response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. mortgage market has been forbearance. On March 18, 2020, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) directed the government-sponsored enterprises (GSE) Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to suspend foreclosures on single-family mortgages and start offering forbearance and modification plans to distressed borrowers.1

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed into law on March 27, codified the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac forbearance programs, and included the government housing agency Ginnie Mae. The act directed the agencies to grant borrower requests for forbearance "with no additional documentation required other than the borrower's attestation to a financial hardship caused by the COVID-19 emergency..." In general, servicers of loans not covered by the law have set up similar forbearance programs.

What is mortgage forbearance?
Mortgage forbearance means a mortgage lender (that is, the holder of credit risk) allows a borrower to stop making mortgage payments for a fixed period of time. During that time, the lender does not charge late fees nor initiate foreclosure proceedings but does consider the borrower delinquent on the loan. Under normal circumstances, the lender would report the delinquency and the forbearance plan to credit bureaus. Under not-so-normal circumstances, including natural disasters, lenders often do not report loan status to credit bureaus. The CARES Act explicitly stipulates that forbearance resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic cannot negatively affect a borrower's credit score, so lenders cannot report borrowers in forbearance as being delinquent.

Once the forbearance period expires, the borrower has to make up the missed payments. For example, if the lender implements a six-month forbearance policy, then borrowers would be allowed to defer all payments for up to six months. After the forbearance period ends, the borrower and lender would typically negotiate a repayment plan that makes the lender whole in the long run but does not send the borrower back into distress. During this COVID-19 forbearance episode, Fannie, Freddie, and Ginnie Mae must provide borrowers affordable repayment options, such as converting the arrears into a partial claim, which is a non-interest-bearing second lien due at termination of the loan.

Forbearance is meant to provide short-term relief to financially distressed borrowers without inducing moral hazard by borrowers who do not need assistance. Since no debt is forgiven, the policy, in theory, should not appeal to borrowers who are not liquidity-constrained. Nevertheless, some empirical evidence Adobe PDF file formatOff-site link indicates that some borrowers may be willing to engage in this "strategic forbearance."

While an acceptable exit strategy exists for borrowers, it is contingent on employment and income being restored before the forbearance period ends. For mortgage servicers, the magnitude of forbearance take-up is crucial to their liquidity—especially for nonbank servicers.

A liquidity squeeze arises because mortgage servicers must advance scheduled principal and interest payments to investors regardless of whether the borrower is paying. In addition, servicers must also pay tax and insurance payments.2 Either the borrower or guarantor will eventually reimburse the servicer, but in the short run, servicers must have sufficient liquidity to be able to bridge this gap. Such a squeeze is especially acute for nonbank servicers who not only are relatively thinly capitalized but also do not qualify for liquidity support programs that have been set up for banks. While this was a concern early in the pandemic, the GSEs and Ginne Mae have implemented polices that have helped to alleviate liquidity concerns of nonbank servicers.3

Forbearance take-up rate
In March, estimates of the fraction of households that would use forbearance in the coming months varied widely. On the one hand, optimists believed forbearance take-up would be fairly low because the CARES Act called for a generous increase in unemployment insurance benefits, which should provide many unemployed households with enough income to continue making payments. For example, FHFA director Mark Calabria estimated that only about 2 million GSE borrowers—a take-up rate of less than 5 percent—would seek forbearance.4

On the other hand, pessimists believed the numbers would be significantly higher. Laurie Goodman of the Urban Institute predicted that close to 12 percent, or 5.75 million borrowers, would request forbearance, and Mark Zandi of Moody's Analytics predicted that around 15 million households, or roughly 30 percent of mortgage borrowers, would miss payments.

To gauge the extent of forbearance, the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) recently initiated a weekly Forbearance and Call Volume Survey of its members. The survey provides a lagged picture of forbearance rates. The latest survey covers more than three quarters of first-lien mortgages, so we believe it is representative of the overall market.

The earliest data from the survey indicate that as of March 8, 2020, the forbearance rate on all loans was below 1 percent, with both Ginnie Mae and Fannie/Freddie loans having forbearance rates of less than one quarter of 1 percent. Forbearance rates rose in the month of April, according to the survey (see the chart). On April 26, overall forbearance rates were at 7.55 percent, up by more than 480 basis points since the beginning of April. The rate of increase slowed in May, and the most recent survey (June 21) shows that the overall take-up percentage fell from the previous two weeks, going from 8.55 percent to 8.47 percent and marking the first decrease in the survey.

chart 01 of 01: Forbearance take-up rates

The data also indicate that there is significant heterogeneity across market segments. The rate for Ginnie Mae loans, 11.83 percent, has been flat for four weeks, while the rate for Fannie and Freddie loans, 6.26 percent, has fallen over the past three weeks. The rate for other loans—including those in private label securitizations (not government guaranteed) and held on portfolio—is 10.07 percent, which is essentially flat for the month of June. For Ginnie loans, this means an increase of more than 1,000 basis point since March 8.

Overall, the actual take-up rates are squarely between the optimistic and pessimistic forecasts.

Looking ahead
The forbearance take-up rates remain elevated, but recently, they have been flat or have fallen. This pattern is consistent with what we've seen in the labor markets—the rate of new unemployment claims has been fallen while the number of unemployed continues to be elevated. The generous increase in unemployment insurance benefits in the CARES Act certainly has helped take-up rates to be lower than the pessimistic forecasts. But the threat that forbearance will transition to foreclosure has regained power because the number of COVID-19 infections is increasing and the CARES Act unemployment insurance benefits will expire at the end of July.

In future posts, we will discuss what we can and cannot learn from past forbearance programs that were related to natural disasters, along with the resolution options available to borrowers who opted into forbearance. For now, we remain cautiously optimistic that the pandemic will subside and the labor market will improve before forbearance and unemployment insurance programs end.

1 [go back] You can find the official press release on the FHFA websiteOff-site link. On the same day, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), in consultation with the federal government, implemented a 60-day moratorium on foreclosures and evictions for single-family homeowners with FHA-insured mortgages. In addition, HUD encouraged FHA mortgage servicersOff-site link to offer various loss-mitigation options to distressed borrowers. The options include short- and long-term forbearance options and mortgage modifications.

2 [go back] Servicers of agency loans are required to maintain first-lien status for the GSEs. This implies ensuring that the borrower has paid all property taxes, whether an escrow account exists or not, and that, in certain states, the borrower has met homeowner association commitments.

3 [go back] On April 10, Ginnie Mae set up a lending facility Adobe PDF file formatOff-site link that allows servicers experiencing liquidity issues to borrow funds to make forbearance-related principal-and interest advances. On April 21, the FHFA announcedOff-site link that it would limit the requirements for servicers of Fannie and Freddie loans to forward principal-and-interest payments to investors to four months of forbearance.

4 [go back] Calabria provided this estimate in an April 1, 2020, interview with CNBC video fileOff-site link. In the same interview, he noted that about 300,000 GSE borrowers had already inquired about forbearance.

May 15, 2020

Examining the Effects of COVID-19 on the Southeast Housing Market

To continue to monitor how the COVID-19 crisis is affecting housing in the Atlanta Fed's district, we conducted a Southeast Housing Market Poll from April 24 to May 1. Respondents included homebuilders and residential sales agents (referred to here as brokers).

What are builders and brokers seeing?
The majority of Southeast brokers and builders indicated that home sales came in below their plan for the period, down from both the month-ago and the year-ago levels.

Chart 01: April 2020 SE Home Sales versus Year Ago

Most builders and brokers also reported that buyer traffic was down relative to the month-earlier and the year-earlier levels. As the results of the special questions continue to emphasize (see below), buyer traffic appears to be the dimension of business that COVID-19 has most adversely affected through April.

chart 02: April 2020 SE Buyer Traffic versus Year Ago

Most brokers and builders indicated that inventory levels remained flat compared to the previous month's levels. Compared to the year-ago level, builders said inventory had increased while brokers noted it was down. Most brokers and builders continued to report that home prices either held steady or were up slightly in April.

Many southeastern builders indicated that construction activity was flat to slightly down in April relative to both the month-ago and the year-ago levels.

chart 03: April 2020 SE Construction Activity versus Year Ago

Most builders said material prices were flat relative to a month ago. More than half of builders reported increases in material prices from a year earlier. The rest were split evenly between reporting that material prices were flat and reporting they were down. While the majority of Southeast builders reported upward pressure on labor costs, a growing share of respondents indicated labor costs were flat or down from the year-ago level.

Chart 4: April 2020 Labor Cost Changes versus Year Earlier

The majority of brokers and builders indicated that the amount of available mortgage credit was sufficient to meet demand, though there did appear to be an uptick in the number of respondents indicating a lack of credit (consistent with a slight uptick on the ability to secure financing noted in the special questions; see below). Most builders said construction and development finance was insufficient to meet demand.

Chart 05: April 2020 Credit Availability versus Year Ago

What's ahead?
With regard to the outlook, the majority of Southeast broker and builder respondents anticipate a decline in home sales activity over the next three months relative to one year ago. The majority of builders continue to expect declines in construction activity over the next three months relative to the year-ago level.

Chart 06: April 2020 SE Outlook versus Year Earlier

Results from special questions on COVID-19
Last month, the poll's special questions homed in on aspects of business that were adversely affected. This month, we borrowed a few additional special questions from the Atlanta Fed's Business Inflation Expectations Survey to help round out the insights.

First, we asked business contacts to assess the overall level of disruption to construction and sales activity. Results indicate moderate disruption to construction activity (the median builder response was 3 on a scale of 5) and a more significant level of disruption to sales activity (the median broker response was 4 on a scale of 5).

Chart 07: How Would You Assess the Level of Disruption After the COVID Outbreak

We revisited the special questions from last month on actual and expected adverse impacts. The profile of responses was relatively unchanged from March to April, with many contacts continuing to indicate a major adverse impact on buyer traffic and the number of offers. There was a slight uptick in the share of contacts who reported an adverse impact on delivery time for building materials and the amount buyers were willing to pay.

Chart 08: To date, has COVID 19 had a noticeable, adverse impact on the business aspects

Lastly, a big question that seems to be on everyone's mind is, "When will things return to normal?" Recognizing that this question is tough to answer with any degree of certainty, we asked builders and brokers to provide their best guess of the number of months until activity returns to "normal."" We also asked builders to indicate how many months they could sustain their business operations until they would have to seek out new sources of funding. Many contacts responded with ranges. The results below reflect the most optimistic responses in the range.

  • The median broker respondent guessed that normal sales activity would resume in five-and-a-half months.
  • The median builder respondent guessed that normal construction activity would resume in four months.
  • The median builder respondent said they could operate for the next six months before they would need to seek out new funding sources (for example, credit lines, emergency loans, debt markets).
table 01: Median builder response to when they would need to seek out new funding source

We'll continue to keep an eye on the housing situation as it unfolds and report back periodically with updates. In the meantime, feel free to share observations from your local market or questions you'd like to have answered in the comments section below.

This poll was conducted April 24 to May 1, 2020, and reflects activity in April 2020. Thirty-three business contacts across the Sixth District participated in the poll: 15 homebuilders and 18 residential brokers.