From a small northwestern observatory…

Finance and economics generally focused on real estate

Housing equilibrium — part 1

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This is going to be a bit convoluted, so bear with me.

This week, I’ve been at Renaissance Weekend, an annual gathering of top minds in a variety of fields (Nobel laureates, authors, actors, CEOs, etc) and I’ve been asked to make several presentations on real estate finance and economics. It’s a pretty heady experience, but more on that later.

One of the principle questions thrown my directions is, ‘When will real estate bottom?’ One might argue that commercial real estate has already bottomed, and there’s a fair amount of data to support that. (A weak “bottom”, I’ll grant you, but a bottom, none-the-less.) Apartments are coming back particularly strong, but even hotels and industrial are showing positive gains this year.

Owner-occupied residential is a completely different story. We’ve really never had a phenomenon like this, and according to both the Federal Housing Finance Authority and Case-Shiller, housing prices continue to collapse all across the country. Indeed, C-S just released a report two days ago indicating that new lows were hit in 6 out of 20 top markets. Overall, housing prices have been downtrending every quarter since mid-2007.

When will this bottom? I’m toying with a set of models which suggest that the pricing market won’t bottom until the ownership rate reaches an equilibrium. Heuristically, that optimal rate appears to be around 64%. Why? I’m looking at the last time ownership rates ballooned, which was at the end of the hyper-inflation period of the late 1970’s. Pricing markets stabilized after the ownership rates stabilized.

This posting is a deviation from my normal routine — My thinking on this topic is evolving, and I’m hoping to trace that evolution here on the blog until I reach something that I can actually flesh out into a paper. I’d appreciate any comments you have, either added as a comment here on the blog or, if you’d like privacy, e-mail them directly to me (

Written by johnkilpatrick

December 30, 2010 at 7:38 pm

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