3 reasons why the frozen housing market of 2024 is actually more active than before the pandemic, Zillow says

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Low inventory levels, high mortgage rates, and rising home prices have left the U.S. housing market frozen for the past year. But a new Zillow report suggests that the housing market today is actually more active than it was before the pandemic—even with inventory levels bottoming out in late 2023.

Competition has cooled significantly since pandemic peaks, Zillow says, but it’s still hotter than pre-pandemic norms, with homes selling at a faster rate. That’s largely due to a lack of available inventory, Orphe Divounguy, Zillow senior economist, tells Fortune

“Inventory is slowly increasing, but remains relatively low,” he says. “This means buyers have fewer options and homes are going under contract 50% faster than pre-pandemic norms.” Today’s 6% mortgage rate will “tamp down competition” for houses than when buyers were vying to purchase at sub-4% rates during the pandemic, he adds, but it won’t completely eliminate it.

Although high mortgage rates and home prices are locking out some homebuyers, there are three ways that the housing market is still more active than it was before the pandemic, Zillow argues.

1 – Homes are selling much faster than before the pandemic

Remember the pandemic-era housing market when homes were flying off the market in just a number of days? While today’s market isn’t moving quite that fast, it’s still going at a quicker pace than before 2020. 

Listings that sell are going under contract in a median of 30 days, Divounguy says. That’s one day less than last year and 50% faster than the pre-pandemic median of 45 days, he adds. In December 2021, buyers snatched listings in just 13 days. 

“Homes are selling quicker than pre-pandemic norms largely due to low inventory levels and pent-up buyer demand,” Divounguy says. But buyers who were “sidelined” by 8% mortgage rates are “likely to resume their search” as rates continue to drop this year, he adds. 

2 – Limited inventory means stiffer competition

Around the time that mortgage rates peaked at 8%, existing-home sales plummeted a stunning 15% in September 2023 on a year-over-year basis to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 3.96 million transactions, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR). That was the lowest figure since the world economy and U.S. housing market were emerging from the Great Financial Crisis in 2010.

“Although supply has also improved somewhat, changes in mortgage rates have a larger impact on demand than on supply,” Divounguy says. “As a result, competition among buyers remains stiff.”

While purchases are happening at a faster pace than before the pandemic, the lack of supply means that there are fewer housing transactions overall, Divounguy says. In fact, inventory levels are 36% lower than pre-pandemic levels, “a shortfall large enough to keep competition relatively brisk,” according to the Zillow report. That means that homebuyers trying to break into today’s market are up against some pretty stiff competition—and have had to start making concessions to finally get a house. 

“People are not entering the market expecting to get everything they want,” Michael Martirena, a real estate agent with Compass Florida, tells Fortune. “This results in bids and offers on less desirable properties and keeps inventory tight at multiple price points.” Plus, nearly 30% of all listings sold above asking price in December 2023, according to Zillow. Only 16% of listings had price cuts, which was the lowest share since April 2022.

3 – Increased home values and mortgage rates

Mortgage rates reached a multi-decade high late last year while home prices increased each month, according to the Case-Shiller index. In turn, the typical mortgage payment was up 7.5% year-over-year in December 2023, according to Zillow. 

But what’s even more striking is that the figure is 106.5% higher than the pandemic average. Today, the typical home in the U.S. is $344,000 and has a monthly mortgage payment of $1,790, assuming a 20% down payment, according to Zillow. But now that the Federal Reserve is slowing its roll on more interest rate hikes, mortgage rates are more likely to even out. In turn, this rate lock should loosen its grip on sellers, Divounguy says, bringing more activity back into the market. 

“More than one in five homeowners are considering selling, compared to 15% one year ago,” he says. “Homeowners are sitting on massive equity—home values are up 41% nationwide since 2019—and roughly 70% of sellers turn around and purchase another home.”

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