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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

It's a discouraging scene: Bidding wars, soaring prices, and fears that homeownership is becoming out of reach for millions of Americans. We're in a housing frenzy, driven by a massive shortage of inventory — and no one seems to be happy about it.

Why it matters: Not all bubbles burst. Real estate, in particular, tends to rise in value much more easily than it falls. Besides, says National Association of Realtors chief economist Lawrence Yun, this "is not a bubble. It is simply lack of supply."

Data: National Association of Realtors; Chart: Axios Visuals

By the numbers: America has a record-low number of homes available for sale — just 1.03 million, according to the latest NAR data. That compares to a peak of more than 4 million at the height of the last housing bubble, in July 2007.

  • The total number of active listings this week is down a record 54% from the same week a year ago, per Realtor.com. That in turn has helped to drive national prices up 17.2% over last year.
  • Almost half of homes now sell within one week of being listed, per Redfin.
  • In Austin, Texas, the median listing price has risen 40% in one year to $520,000.

The big picture: Prices are being driven upwards by a combination of factors, including continued low mortgage rates, a pandemic-era construction slowdown, a desire for more space as people work increasingly from home, and a stock market driven increase in money available for downpayment.

  • A rise in financial buyers — large corporations buying up homes to rent them out — is only making the market tighter, and decreasing the number of owner-occupied properties available.
  • What's missing: Unlike the mid-2000s, this time around there's no exuberant culture of condo flipping. While interest rates are low, lending standards are still tight, making it hard to buy a house you can't afford.

The good news is that rents have not been rising nearly as fast as prices. They stayed roughly flat during the pandemic, and are now rising at perhaps a 4% pace, Yun says.

Homebuyers are the biggest losers. In order to win bidding wars, many of them are being forced to make rushed and risky decisions. Successful bids often need to waive any financing contingency or right to inspect the property.

  • That raises the terrifying prospect of putting down a large downpayment and then not being able to get a mortgage — and/or finding that the house requires hundreds of thousands of dollars in repairs.

The worst-case outcome, says Yun, would be if "rates remain low, demand picks up with new jobs, there's no increase in supply, and the only thing that moves is home prices, until people get priced out. That would mean we are creating a divided society of haves and have-nots."

  • The best-case outcome, on the other hand, would be a construction boom accelerated by President Biden's infrastructure plan, which would create more supply and help to stop the rise in prices.

The bottom line: Housing prices are likely to remain high and rising for a while yet.

Go deeper

20 mins ago - Health

Biden reaches agreements with Uber and Lyft to give free rides to vaccine sites

A coronavirus vaccination site in Miami on May 10. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The Biden administration has reached agreements with ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft to offer free rides to coronavirus vaccination sites through July 4, the White House announced Tuesday.

Why it matters: The free rides, starting in the next two weeks, are part of the Biden administration's push to administer at least one vaccine dose to 70% of U.S. adults by Independence Day.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
30 mins ago - Energy & Environment

Biden officials green-light nation's first big offshore wind project

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

The Biden administration today gave final approval to Vineyard Wind, a project off the Massachusetts coast slated to be the country's first large-scale offshore wind farm.

Why it matters: While the green-light for the long-proposed projected was expected, it marks a key step in White House plans to help spur development of a suite of coastal projects off New York, New Jersey and other states.

Global temperatures are cooler in 2021 than other recent years

Data: NASA; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

With a moderate La Niña event in the tropical Pacific Ocean, global temperatures in 2021 are running decidedly cooler when compared to recent years.

Why it matters: The lack of a new warmest year record in 2021 could sap some of the sense of urgency among policymakers in the U.S. and abroad during a critical year for enacting stricter emissions cuts to meet the Paris Agreement's targets.

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