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Locked into your house?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis March 17, 2014 09:55 AM

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"Frank" bought his dream house a couple years ago after a long and frustrating search.

While he wound up paying more than he would have liked to, among the consolations was the fact he locked in a killer interest rate.

Frank dropped me a line this morning, pointing out this Times story on the boomerang effect all those low rates may have on the housing market as we head into the crucial spring sales season.

Basically, with interest rates poised to hit 5 or 6 percent by year end, homeowners who locked in rates in the 3 percent range have a compelling, baked-in incentive not to move or sell.

Frank actually summed up the sentiment very succinctly in his note to me this morning.

"No way will I give up my 3.25% mortgage, without some very compelling reasons," he writes.

In fact, there is actually a term for this phenomenon - the "lock-in" effect, according to this study by the Institute for Housing Studies at DePaul University in Chicago.

Based on the model developed by the DePaul professors, we could see the number of homeowners interested or at least able to sell their homes drop by 15 percent by year end.

And it is a phenomenon that will hit the strongest markets - read Greater Boston - the hardest.

In a market already starved for new listings, that's tough news.

Here's a pretty chilling passage from the DePaul report.

A rise in long-term interest rates has the potential to lock these homeowners into their existing residences because they will be reluctant to switch to a higher mortgage rate on a new loan.

The pullback of the Federal  Reserve's Quantitative Easing policy is certain to generate such a rise.

Further, homeowners who are locked in due to the increase in interest rates would join existing households locked in due to negative equity caused by the one-third decline in house prices between 2006 and 2010.

The growing number of locked-in households will in turn cause a deep reduction in housing turnover, or sales activity, and this reduction will be particularly steep in the strongest housing markets.


This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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