The gap that has jumped open between these two lines has created a nationwide lock-in effect — paralyzing people in homes they may wish to leave — on a scale not seen in decades. For homeowners not looking to move anytime soon, the low rates they secured during the pandemic will benefit them for years to come. But for many others, those rates have become a complication, disrupting both household decisions and the housing market as a whole.

new research from economists at the Federal Housing Finance Agency, this lock-in effect is responsible for about 1.3 million fewer home sales in America during the run-up in rates from the spring of 2022 through the end of 2023. That’s a startling number in a nation where around five million homes sell annually in more normal times — most of those to people who already own.

These locked-in households haven’t relocated for better jobs or higher pay, and haven’t been able to downsize or acquire more space. They also haven’t opened up homes for first-time buyers. And that’s driven up prices and gummed up the market.

Share of existing mortgages with rates below or above new market rates Percentage point difference from rates on new mortgages BELOW
Federal Housing Finance Agency analysis. Note: Data covers all fixed-rate mortgages in the U.S.

Distribution of fixed rates held by existing mortgage holders
Before the dot-com recession
During the housing boom
Emerging from the Great Recession
On the eve of the pandemic

Source: Federal Housing Finance Agency analysis. Note: Data shown captures the fourth quarter of each year.

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