Rising Mortgage Rates Add to the Challenge of Buying a House

But some shoppers — particularly first-time buyers — may decide to wait until even higher rates help cool off prices later in the year. The largest share of home buyers are millennials ages 21 to 40, many of whom are first-time buyers, according to the National Association of Realtors.

“The spring season will be very interesting,” said Lawrence Yun, the chief economist with the Realtors association.

Ultimately, the housing market needs an increase in inventory, Mr. Yun said. “We need a supply of empty homes.” Builders have faced challenges in keeping newly built homes affordable including high lumber prices and difficulty finding construction workers.

Buyers may need to consider more affordable homes in less urban areas, Mr. Yun said. That may depend on whether homeowners expect to be able to continue working remotely.

One variable in the number of homes for sale is the winding down of mortgage forbearances granted during the pandemic. Many homeowners have been able to resume payments after their payment pause expired. But some may be unable to, forcing them to sell their homes, said Michael Fratantoni, the chief economist with the Mortgage Bankers Association. The number of borrowers in forbearance has been declining, to an estimated 705,000 homeowners at the end of 2021.

Inflation F.A.Q.

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What is inflation? Inflation is a loss of purchasing power over time, meaning your dollar will not go as far tomorrow as it did today. It is typically expressed as the annual change in prices for everyday goods and services such as food, furniture, apparel, transportation and toys.

What causes inflation? It can be the result of rising consumer demand. But inflation can also rise and fall based on developments that have little to do with economic conditions, such as limited oil production and supply chain problems.

Is inflation bad? It depends on the circumstances. Fast price increases spell trouble, but moderate price gains can lead to higher wages and job growth.

Can inflation affect the stock market? Rapid inflation typically spells trouble for stocks. Financial assets in general have historically fared badly during inflation booms, while tangible assets like houses have held their value better.

As always with real estate, conditions vary. Agents in some hot markets say a rise in interest rates may take time to affect prices because some buyers don’t need financing to purchase homes. Kyle Schelvan, an agent with the Asa Team, part of eXp Realty, in Orlando, Fla., said homes in the area often were bought by people who had sold homes elsewhere and were using their cash proceeds to buy homes in Florida. Traditional buyers sometimes must take steps they once would have considered preposterous, he said — like buying a home occupied by a renter and waiting months for the lease to expire so they can move into the property. “It’s challenging,” he said.

Here are some questions and answers about mortgage rates and the housing market:

Adjustable-rate mortgages, or ARMs, offer a fixed interest rate for a certain period before switching to a variable rate. The loans earned a bad reputation in the housing crisis in 2008 because some lenders gave them to unqualified buyers who couldn’t afford the higher payments when interest rates spiked. Lingering skepticism about adjustable loans, combined with low rates on fixed-rate mortgages in recent years, has kept ARMs out of favor, said Mr. Walden at Black Knight.