To say people around the world were surprised about the United Kingdom's vote to leave the European Union would be an understatement.
People weren’t just surprised about the result of the June 23 referendum – they were shocked, and the global markets reflected that. U.S. markets experienced the biggest two-day fall in nearly a year, before stock levels largely returned to normal within a few days.
But real estate is one U.S. industry that isn't seeing a big impact amid the uncertainty surrounding the U.K. and EU. In fact, it may prove to be an additional boost for an industry that’s slowly pulled itself out of the hole created by the subprime mortgage crisis that began in 2007 and is now quickly gaining more ground.
External factors – both domestic and foreign – rarely have an immediate impact on U.S. real estate. While stock markets react quickly to news, real estate transactions often require, or at least encourage, due diligence before a sale is completed, so recent events won't impact scheduled transactions. And with the ebb and flow of different parts of the industry, including lending, buyer demand and seller inventory, struggles in one area can be offset with successes in another.
Even in the U.K., real estate transactions continued as usual in the immediate wake of the historic vote, also called Brexit. But there have been some signs of investors looking to offload British commercial real estate assets, and an economic downturn in the country could hurt the housing market. Simon Calton, CEO of Rycal Investment Group, an investment advisory company based in both the U.S. and U.K., expects to see effects of the decision on real estate within about six months.
“You’ve not started to see any major, major changes because, like anything, the housing market usually takes a little time. With these kind of impacts, it needs to kind of filter down,” Calton says.
Despite how much the decision stunned stock markets, Calton and other industry experts believe Brexit will actually have a positive impact on U.S. real estate – and that's already evident for U.S. homebuyers.
Interest Rates Remain Low
In mid-June, the Federal Reserve declined to boost interest rates, which haven’t increased since December 2015, the first rate hike in seven years. Concerns over a lackluster May jobs report where just 38,000 jobs were added when 162,000 were expected, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and anticipation for the Brexit vote later in the month were listed among chief reasons to hold off on increasing rates until the next meeting. But when the referendum results revealed the U.K. would indeed leave the EU, chances that the Fed would increase interest rates at its July 26-27 meeting quickly diminished.
Mortgage rates from lenders are falling following the Brexit decision as well. Bankrate reports the average 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage rate at just 3.44 percent as of last week.
If you were on the fence about buying a new home, now would be the time to take advantage of the current market.
“If you can, lock in long-term money at these historically low rates, and at the same time, we’ve got prices increasing,” says Whitney Fite, president of Angel Oak Home Loans in Atlanta. “You want to be able to get in now versus later, because after would mean inevitably higher rates at some point, and possibly higher prices for that same house you’d be able to get today.”
But the low rates aren’t just luring homebuyers – it’s a great opportunity to refinance. Even if you’re satisfied with your current rate, Fite says taking advantage of today's interest rates may allow you build equity in your home at a faster pace.
“We have people that have a 4 percent, 30-year fixed interest rate. And you think wow, that’s great, it doesn’t make sense to refinance. But when you can get a 2.5 percent, 15-year [rate], cut your term in half and your payment doesn’t go up much because you’re dropping your rate a point and a half – that’s what a lot of consumers are really picking up on,” Fite says.
More Interest in U.S. Property
Looking roughly six months in the future, Calton expects to see increased interest in U.S. real estate from overseas as uncertainty grows over British and European economies. Ramifications for London real estate are expected eventually, as international investors may choose to pull out in favor of a more predictable market, and a lack of interested buyers would lower property values.
“I see a small influx of foreign investors looking to move their money outside of the U.K. and Europe. But then again, there’s so many other things happening in the housing market in the United States,” Calton says.
Even with an influx of international buyers, American buyers won't necessarily be outpriced. Jared Seligman, a luxury broker and leader of the Seligman Team at Douglas Elliman Real Estate in New York, stresses that New York and other U.S. cities are still very much domestic real estate markets.
“People are very comfortable with the future of New York City and America,” Seligman says. “The American dream is alive and well. They do believe in the future of our country, they believe in the safety, they believe in the asset returning.”
Continued growth from international and domestic investors alike would build on the place U.S. real estate has established in the global market. Seligman notes that while New York has a strong real estate market and some of the wealthiest investors in the world, London real estate prices are often double those in New York.
“I believe that in 10 years, New York will supersede all of them,” Seligman says.
Stabilizing Going Forward
The Brexit decision is just one major political change set to occur this year. The U.S. presidential election in November is guaranteed to bring a new administration, and as with any election, uncertainties abound as to who will be the country's next leader and how his or her policies will impact the markets and the economy.
Major elections have a tendency to create some hesitation among homebuyers and sellers, but Fite says Brexit and other economic doubts like job growth or other international issues keeping interest rates low could reduce some of the stress.
But Fite notes he doesn’t see the results of the election having a significant impact on real estate, as neither major party candidate, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, has focused on legislation specific to housing. With no significant changes expected on the horizon, the market should be allowed to continue to adjust to current policy and for some restrictions to loosen over time to help more Americans qualify for mortgages.
“The smart thing to do for everyone is to do it in a prudent manner to ensure that we don’t create another bubble,” he says.
She has appeared in media interviews across the U.S. including National Public Radio, WTOP (Washington, D.C.) and KOH (Reno, Nevada) and various print publications, as well as having served on panels discussing real estate development, city planning policy and homebuilding.
Previously, she served as a researcher of commercial real estate transactions and information, and is currently a member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Thorsby studied Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she also served as a news reporter and editor for the student newspaper The Michigan Daily. Follow her on Twitter or write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.