• The real-estate market could soon see a major “leg down,” the strategist Chris Vermeulen said.
  • Signals in construction activity are mirroring the period leading up to the 2008 crash.  
  • “People don’t realize real estate is primed and ready for another major leg down,” he said.
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America’s real-estate market could be in for a big correction, the veteran strategist Chris Vermeulen said.

The chief market strategist of The Technical Traders pointed to worrying signals flashing in the real-estate sector, as borrowing costs look poised to stay higher for longer.

Construction starts for single- and multi-family homes have plateaued after a steep drop last year, a pattern similar to one that flashed prior to the 2008 housing correction, he said.

The stabilization of construction activity is likely due to a burst of investment that’s hit the sector, Vermeulen said, but real estate is still in trouble, especially if mortgage rates remain elevated.

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“To me, this is a sign that things are really breaking down, and this is just a bounce,” Vermeulen said of the recent stabilization in construction activity.

“It’s the last spot right now,” he said, where “you can squeeze a little bit of profits out of these buildings.” Material and labor costs are up, he said, “and then, we see the financial sector and real-estate pricing really fall apart.”

While most single-family homes in the US are financed with a 30-year fixed mortgage, higher rates could pose a problem for property owners who need to refinance sooner. That’s the case for many commercial property owners, and the sector will see $900 billion of debt maturing this year, according to Bloomberg data.

Continued interest-rate pressure could bring on a wave of distress, Vermeulen said. Commercial-real-estate foreclosures jumped 117% year over year in just the first quarter, according to data from ATTOM.

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In residential real estate, it’s unlikely that home prices will crash the way they did during the 2008 bust, Vermuelen said. However, further weakening could spark a panicked sell-off among investors who have been putting cash to work in real-estate companies and in things like real-estate ETFs.

“People don’t realize real estate is primed and ready for another major leg down,” he said. “They’re buying right now, because there’s been a pullback, but the reality is that I think we’re going to see this collapse,” he later added.

Real-estate veterans have warned about a correction in property prices for the last year, particularly in commercial real estate. Office values have plunged since the COVID-19 pandemic, dropping 35% through late March. The sector likely has more downside on the way as remote work drives vacancies up and property owners refinance debt at higher interest rates and lower property valuations, Fitch Ratings said.