If you’re thinking of buying or selling a home, one of the biggest questions you have right now is probably: what’s happening with home prices? And it’s no surprise you don’t have the clarity you need on that topic. Part of the issue is how headlines are talking about prices.
They’re basing their negative news by comparing current stats to the last few years. But you can’t compare this year to the ‘unicorn’ years (when home prices reached record highs that were unsustainable). And as prices begin to normalize now, they’re talking about it like it’s a bad thing and making people fear what’s next. But the worst home price declines are already behind us. What we’re starting to see now is the return to more normal home price appreciation.
To help make home price trends easier to understand, let’s focus on what’s typical for the market and omit the last few years since they were anomalies.
Let’s start by talking about seasonality in real estate. In the housing market, there are predictable ebbs and flows that happen each year. Spring is the peak homebuying season when the market is most active. That activity is typically still strong in the summer but begins to wane as the cooler months approach. Home prices follow along with seasonality because prices appreciate most when something is in high demand.
That’s why, before the abnormal years we just experienced, there was a reliable long-term home price trend. The graph below uses data from Case-Shiller to show typical monthly home price movement from 1973 through 2021 (not adjusted, so you can see the seasonality):
As the data from the last 48 years shows, at the beginning of the year, home prices grow, but not as much as they do entering the spring and summer markets. That’s because the market is less active in January and February since fewer people move in the cooler months. As the market transitions into the peak homebuying season in the spring, activity ramps up, and home prices go up a lot more in response. Then, as fall and winter approach, activity eases again. Price growth slows, but still typically appreciates.