From a small northwestern observatory…

Finance and economics generally focused on real estate

The housing market — Damning with faint praise

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Sorry we’ve been absent for so long — it’s been a terrifically busy summer and early fall here at Greenfield. Hopefully, we’ll be back in the saddle more frequently for the rest of this year.

From an economist’s perspective, there’s plenty to talk about — Euro-zone debt crisis, job growth (or lack thereof), Federal and state debt, etc., etc., etc. My own focus is the mixed-message on the housing market, which continues in the doldrums. If you listen to the reports from the National Association of Realtors, you get some positive headlines followed by fairly depressing details. Existing home sales are better than forecasted, mainly due to great borrowing rates and the influx of “investor-buyers”. Lots of single family homes and condos are being turned into rental property or held “dark” for the economic lights to come back on. A surprisingly large number of homes are purchased for all-cash, since if you believe that housing prices are near their bottom, then residential real estate may be more stable — and potentially have better returns — than equities.

On the other hand, new home sales continue to languish at their lowest levels since we started keeping score in 1963.

Intriguingly, if you ignore the post-2003 “bubble” period, and trendline the data (which grows over time, to account for the increasing population), you end up with about 900,000 new home sales in 2011. As it happens, we’re actually around 300,000, reflective of a significant decline in home ownership rates — now down to about 66%.

The real question is whether or not this change in home ownership rates is temporary or permanent. We happen to think it’s permanent. That’s not all bad news, but it means that when new home sales come back on-line (eventually getting back to somewhere short of 900,000, but certainly higher than 300,000), we won’t see a return to bubble-statistics.

Written by johnkilpatrick

November 7, 2011 at 3:17 pm

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