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Home sales have plunged. Buyers, facing the fastest-rising mortgage rates in decades, are scrapping their plans. And forecasters have rarely disagreed so much over where the market goes next.

By many measures, the housing market entered a sharp slump this summer after the Federal Reserve abruptly ended a real-estate boom fueled by the pandemic and record-low borrowing rates.

Mortgage rates climbed above 7% to 20-year highs in October and November before ticking lower in recent weeks. Existing-home sales have dropped for nine straight months through October, the longest streak since the National Association of Realtors began tracking this data in 1999.

It is typical for rising interest rates to cool the housing market. But the speed of this year’s mortgage-rate increase has created a sense of whiplash among buyers and sellers, and that makes it difficult to predict how long the housing slump will last and how bad it will get.

Contradictory signals abound. Demand has tumbled, but the supply of homes is still low. Prices have fallen but are well above their pre-pandemic levels. Interest rates are sky-high compared with a year ago, but below where they stood in the decades when many older Americans bought their first homes.

“When prices are rising, people can’t believe housing will ever go down, and then once prices fall, they can’t believe it will ever go up,” said Glenn Kelman, chief executive at real-estate brokerage Redfin Corp.

The pandemic caused home sales to surge in 2020 and 2021. Home buyers looked for more space with the rise in remote work and rock-bottom interest rates made buying a home affordable for many Americans.

Home prices soared 45% between January 2020 and June 2022, according to the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller National Home Price Index. Rents also soared as younger people chose to move out on their own rather than live with roommates.

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell went so far recently as to call the boom phase of the housing market a “bubble.”

“You had housing prices going up at very unsustainable levels and overheating,” he said at a Nov. 30 event. “Now the housing market’s going to go through the other side of that and hopefully come out in a better place.”

Next year’s predictions for home prices are unusually varied, economists say. KPMG LLP, an audit and consulting firm, is calling for prices to fall 20% next year, and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. forecasts a 7.5% drop. The National Association of Realtors, meanwhile, is forecasting a 1.2% increase in existing-home prices, and the Mortgage Bankers Association sees prices up 0.7% next year.

How long the slump in sales lasts depends in part on how long it takes the Fed to get control of inflation, which is running at a 40-year high and has triggered the most rapid series of interest-rate increases by the Fed since the early 1980s. The Fed’s efforts to slow the economy in great part depend on the housing market slumping, both because that cools off demand for goods and services, and because housing itself is an important contributor to inflation. Other factors, such as wage increases, could keep inflation on the boil.

The surge in interest rates has pushed both buyers and sellers out of the housing market. Buyers have been priced out, or they have retreated because they think prices might be lower in the future.

Ole and Amanda Wendroth scrapped plans to buy a starter home in Ann Arbor, Mich., earlier this year after being repeatedly outbid. They resumed this fall, and then paused their search again. Even though houses now are sitting on the market longer and prices are starting to fall, interest rates have risen so much that their expected monthly payment would be more than $1,000 beyond what they pay in rent.