Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Americans are behaving very differently than they have in previous recessions — convinced that the coronavirus pandemic will soon pass, many continue to spend money as if nothing has changed.

Driving the news: The latest example of this trend is the Commerce Department's new home sales report, which showed home sales increased in April despite nationwide lockdowns that banned real estate agents in some states from even showing listed houses.

  • Sales of newly built homes rose by 1% in April compared with March, dramatically outpacing economists' expectations for a 22% decline.

What we're hearing: "I am quite surprised about the resiliency of the housing market," Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of Realtors, tells Axios.

  • "My reading is that both buyers and sellers believe there will be no price reductions," he adds. "Sellers are listing their homes as if there is no pandemic."

What's happening: Yun says there are four main factors driving the market's strength.

  1. Dwindling supply as a result of fewer homes being built in recent years and older people not moving.
  2. Historically low mortgage rates.
  3. The CARES Act moratorium on residential foreclosures for borrowers with federally backed mortgage loans.
  4. Consumers who were locked out of the market in 2019 and are confident prices will continue to rise even in the face of the recession.

The intrigue: Much of the purchasing over the last few months has been done by home buyers rather than investors, NAR's data shows, and the most sought-after properties are lower- and mid-priced houses. Higher-priced properties are seeing limited demand and a glut of supply.

Between the lines: While the prices of new homes declined slightly in April, those for existing homes rose to the highest level on record and Yun expects to see them increase by 5% by the end of the year, touching new record highs.

Yes, but: The pandemic looks to be accelerating an "unhealthy development" in the U.S. housing market — the lack of affordable housing for young adults and middle-class Americans.

  • "Prices have risen consistently above people’s income growth," Yun says. "It has been happening for six or seven straight years."

Watch this space: The bullish sentiment may not last forever, Yun warns, but he sees no signs that it will fade any time soon.

  • "There are unknowns out there, but so far the housing market is surprising on the upside in terms of buyers chasing few supplies and bidding up the price."
Data: The Conference Board; Chart: Axios Visuals

Confidence in the housing market also is evident in expectations about the future held by consumers.

  • While the Conference Board's consumer confidence index has fallen by 30 points from its March level, expectations about the next six months in the May survey were 10 points higher than in March.
  • In fact, the expectations index rose to its highest level since September.

Why it matters: Consumer confidence is likely helping drive asset prices higher, including the stock market, as hopes are rising for a quick economic rebound despite warnings from economists of long-lasting damage.

What happened: The Dow jumped 530 points to close at 24,995 while the broader S&P 500 rose 1.2% on Tuesday, led by airline stocks, which made up one-third of the 15 biggest gainers on the S&P.

  • Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise each rose 15% and Carnival jumped 13%.

Go deeper: Existing U.S. home prices soar to record high

Go deeper

Consumer confidence notches its first decline since March

Data: Hamilton Place Strategies and CivicScience; Chart: Axios Visuals

Consumer confidence had its first major decline since March 31 as a new round of coronavirus cases have spiked, according to the HPS-CivicScience Economic Sentiment Index.

By the numbers: Consumer confidence fell 1.3 points to 47.8. The index's previous reading showed a record increase in confidence in finding a new job and the overall U.S. economy, but both indicators fell — dropping by 2.4 and 2.5 points, respectively — in the latest survey. Confidence in making a major purchase also declined by 1.5 points. ESI's two other indicators, confidence in the housing market and confidence in personal finances, were flat.

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