Fannie Mae CEO: ‘Housing today is a tale of two markets. We need to make it work for everyone’

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It’s hard to make sense of today’s housing market. The swirl of statistics and headlines can seem confusing and contradictory. Is the housing market relatively strong and healthy? Or is it struggling and out of balance?

The answer all depends on where you sit. Fundamentally, America’s housing market is on solid ground. But it’s not working well for everyone. It’s critical to understand the complex crosscurrents if we want housing to be both strong and fair–a goal we all share.

Housing today is a tale of two markets. On one hand, it’s a good market for homeowners. Fannie Mae’s latest Home Price Index shows that prices have jumped by 5% this year so far, continuing a three-year trend of historic growth. This means more equity wealth for homeowners.

At the same time, it’s a tough market for homebuyers facing rising home prices and mortgage rates that have more than doubled over the past 18 months.

In fact, while homeownership aspirations remain high, only about 20% of Americans believe it’s a good time to buy a home, our latest National Housing Survey® found. This monthly gauge of consumer confidence in housing appears to be plateauing close to its historic lows as if consumers view unaffordable housing as the new normal.

That’s a dramatic slide in optimism from just over three years ago. In February 2020, consumers were broadly bullish on housing. Then the pandemic happened. Housing demand surged, fueled by remote work, social distancing, fiscal stimulus, and low interest rates. Home prices, in turn, rose more than 40% between December 2019 and May 2023. Now tighter monetary policy has helped push mortgage rates to around 7%. 

Yet despite consumers’ pessimism, the housing market today is healthy by many measures.

  • Home prices continue to be driven by fundamental forces–supply and demand–not speculation or the sort of sloppy underwriting that led to the Great Recession in 2008.
  • Thanks to strong underwriting standards, the vast majority of today’s mortgages are safe, solid, and sustainable.
  • Price gains on existing homes are strengthening homeowners’ balance sheets.
  • A rise in new home construction is creating jobs and helping support the overall economy.

But the good news may be cold comfort to first-time and other potential homebuyers.

  • The portion of the existing housing stock for sale is at historic lows. Baby Boomers are aging in place. Homebuyers who closed a mortgage or homeowners who refinanced below 3% during Covid are staying put rather than relocating and taking out a 7% loan.  
  • Prices have continued upward and affordability–comparing median household income to the median home price–is also near historic lows.

The affordability squeeze has hit young people and historically underserved people hardest. These groups make up a disproportionate share of the renter population. All this against a backdrop where the homeownership rates for Black and Hispanic homeowners now stand 29 and 23 percentage points lower than the 73% white homeownership rate.

In short, depending on your situation, the housing market is either working or it isn’t. If you already own a home, you may be feeling good. Not so much if you are saving to buy your first home. Especially if you are a person of modest means.

There should be one housing market that works better for everyone. There are no simple solutions to tough challenges such as housing supply, affordability, and access to credit. But we can make choices that expand housing opportunities, safely and responsibly. For example, we can reach the “credit invisible” by factoring steady rent payments and nontraditional income into mortgage approvals, scrub hidden bias from home appraisals, reduce daunting closing costs, and tackle other old barriers facing new borrowers who are capable and ready to take on a mortgage.

Our company is putting ideas like this into practice. But housing needs many more innovative ideas, and Fannie Mae needs more partners to help implement these ideas at scale. With the commitment of housing’s many stakeholders, we can expand housing opportunities in ways that are sustainable and responsible-both for the housing system and for homeowners. We can have a housing market that is strong, fair, and works for all-not just those who are fortunate to already own a piece of it.

Priscilla Almodovar is the CEO of Fannie Mae.

The opinions expressed in Fortune.com commentary pieces are solely the views of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of Fortune.

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