The U.S. housing market has highlighted the growing disparity between upper- and lower-income citizens exacerbated by COVID-19 as homeowners welcome a hot sellers market, while renters struggle to post their next payment.

Existing-Home Sales Spike

On the high end, homeowners with equity are in one of the hottest sellers markets in years fueled by low interest rates, an exodus from major metro areas, and tight supply. Existing-home sales increased for the fourth consecutive month in September, up nearly 21% compared to a year ago, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR). All major regions of the U.S. saw month-over-month and annual gains in September, with the Northeast experiencing the largest increase in home sales.

Renter Insecurity Climbs

On the flip side, more than 10% of renters, or 5.9 million Americans, said they had no confidence in their ability to make next month’s rent, according to the Census Bureau's Household Pulse Survey conducted Sept. 30 through Oct. 12. Moreover, nearly 16% of respondents think it is very likely they will be evicted from their homes in the next two months. This comes as apartment vacancies rise amid high unemployment levels in the nation’s biggest cities. 

10%

More than 10% of renters, or 5.9 million Americans, said they had no confidence in their ability to make next month’s rent,

K-Shaped Recovery

The stark contrast between upper- and lower-income Americans strengthens the view that the U.S. will see a K-shaped recovery as its economy bounces back from the effects of COVID-19. The idea is that a recovery from a recession will be uneven and exacerbate inequality, with some people being worse off and others being better off than before.

Median Home Prices and Homebuilder Stocks Jump

Home prices in every region were up last month, the NAR reported, but there is a supply shortage in several major markets, including Miami, Southern California, and some areas in New York. The median existing-home price for all housing types in September was $311,800, a 14.8% increase from a year ago ($271,500).

YCharts
YCharts.

Homebuilder stocks have ridden the wave of the housing boom including Pulte Homes (PHM), Toll Brothers(TOL), and KB Homes (KBH), with gains that have far outpaced the broader market and most sectors.

Price Hikes Shock Consumers

This is a bitter shock to those who thought housing costs would decrease amid the pandemic. A quarter of adults thought the average price of houses in their area would decrease over the next year, according to a Gallup housing poll, up from 9% of adults who answered the survey last year.

Yet not all homeowners are in a good spot. More than 2.3 million homeowners – five times the number entering 2020 – have delinquent mortgages that remain 90 or more days past due, but not in foreclosure, according to Black Knight, Inc. Mortgage debt has nearly doubled since 2003 and comprises almost 70% of total U.S. consumer debt, according to data from the New York Fed Consumer Credit Panel and Equifax. States in the Northeast and deep South, like New York and Mississippi, reported the highest mortgage delinquency rates.

Delinquencies Decline

Nonetheless, September did see a bright spot as the national delinquency rate fell to 6.66%, down from 6.88% in August, Black Knight reported. Just 2% of homeowners said they have no confidence in their ability to make their next payment, according to the Census Bureau. However, the low percentage could be because the CARES Act invoked a moratorium on home foreclosures for all federally-backed mortgages that extends until the end of the year.