From a small northwestern observatory…

Finance and economics generally focused on real estate

Posts Tagged ‘home ownership rates

How many homes do we need?

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It is HARD to keep up with a blog when the news seems to move out from under you every day.  Now that the election is over, we can get back to normal stuff, like how’s the economy doing and where do we go from here.

Back on the campaign trail, ONE of the presidential candidates  (HE will remain nameless) complained about the level of home ownership, which hit the “lowest level” in 50 years or so.  Admittedly, that’s true, but also a bit misleading.  Since the peak — which led, by the way, to the recent mortgage melt-down, home ownership in America declined from 69.2% (June, 2004) to 62.9%% (June, 2016).  That’s not a huge decline, but indicative of just how sensitive our economy is to the level of home ownership.  I’ll be the first one to admit (and in my early days, I did more than a bit of research on this) that lots of good things eminate from new home construction and from the home brokerage business.  For one, there are a lot of good jobs at stake — from skilled carpentry to mortgage lending and everything in-between.  I’ll also note that there have been many studies thru the years focused on the social benefits of home ownership, which add to neighborhood quality, school quality, and even reduced crime levels.

That said, most good things come in “optimum” levels.  For example, eating a well balanced diet is superior to either starving or binge eating.  Human bodies are optimized for a temperature of 98.6F, and will die if internal temps are sustained even a few degrees on either side.  Not enough water and you die, and yet people drown each year from too much.  See the connection?

Home ownership would not have hit record levels without lending practices that were neither healthy nor sustainable.  We don’t know exactly what the optimum level of home ownership in the U.S. economy might be, since the economy is anything but static.  However, right now, the economy seems to be chugging along quite nicely with current home ownership levels.  Are we at a sustainable optimum?  Perhaps, but only time, and stable economic policies, will give us some empirical data.

Written by johnkilpatrick

December 7, 2016 at 3:53 pm

S&P Case Shiller Index

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There are two important house price indices in the U.S. — the Federal Housing Finance Authority index (which can be localized down to the SMSA level) and the S&P Case Shiller Index.  The latter actually pre-dates the former, and was the source of data for co-founder Robert Shiller (yes, the Nobel Laureate) making his “housing bubble” cries in the wilderness a half-decade ago.  If for no other reason, we pay homage to this report, which hit our desks this morning.  Additionally, the FHFA index and the C-S index measure house prices somewhat differently, so at a localized level the two indices may say somewhat different things.  Here at Greenfield, we often have to cobble together an index for a market that is smaller than an SMSA.  Using these two indices in tandem, a researcher is able to discern more subtle issues in a local market.  Hence, keeping up with house prices really requires both rather than one or the other.

Bottom line?  For the most recent analysis period (October-November, 2011), both their 10-city and 20-city composites showed price declines of 1.3%, and for the second consecutive month, 19 of the 20 cities tracked showed declines.  Further, the 10-city and 20-city indices showed annual returns of negative 3.6% and negative 3.7% respectively.  Worst city?  Atlanta, with a negative 11.8% annual return.  The only two cities with positive annual returns were Detroit (+3.8%) and Washington, DC (+0.5%).

Our own research here at Greenfield suggests that the current “bottom fishing” on house prices will probably sustain until there is some equilibrium in the home ownership rates.  One might argue that the stagnation in house prices is indelibly linked to over-supply (the “shadow” inventory in the U.S. equals about a year and a half of sales) and the lack of demand (which is tied to the unemployment rate).  Nonetheless, thirty years ago, when interest rates were double what they are today, and the unemployment rate in the U.S. was about the same, home prices were strong and stable.

Why is today different?  Three things — first, the home price bubble was caused by the home ownership rate bubble.  Until home ownership rates get back to a sustainable level, home prices won’t start behaving.  (What is behaving, you might ask?  Historically, before the bubble, home prices track very nicely against household income, which means they’re a great inflation hedge.)  Second, the recent collapse in home prices has taken the bloom off the rose, so to speak, as American households have lost faith in the “home” as a store-house of value.  Finally, the low-down-payment loan was one of the most notable victims of the housing collapse (unfairly, we might add).  As such, “starter” home sales are moribund (just look at new home sales for the clue to this one) and if “starter” homes can’t be sold, then “move up” homes can’t be bought.

I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings on a cold, winter day.  (Irony — the northwestern U.S., where I live, is the ONLY part of the country not facing unseasonably warm weather this winter.)  Unfortunately, housing is just going to limp along for a while.

Written by johnkilpatrick

January 31, 2012 at 9:58 am

And yet another post about housing

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With all the negative news about housing, the market may have a tendency to grasp at any straw that floats along. In today’s news, that straw is a report from the census bureau that home ownership rates — which have been declining steadily for two years, and are now at a 13-year low — seemed to reverse trend in the 3rd quarter and rise by 0.4% to 66.3%.

courtesy U.S. Census Bureau, 11/9/11

Of course, a quick read of the footnotes belies the problem with this pronouncement. First, as you can see, there’s a fair amount of cycling around long-term trends, and that’s probably what this is. Second, on a seasonally adjusted basis (which is really where the truth can be found), the increase was only 0.2%, which is statistically insignificant. Further, on a year-to-year basis, we’re still lower than where we were a year ago, which really underscores the long-term trend. I continue to believe that ownership rates will stabilize somewhere above 64%, but probably pretty close to it. At the current trend, that may take 3 – 5 years.

More importantly, though, an increase in housing demand (and prices) led us out of prior recessions, but housing is continuing to be a drag on the market following this most recent one. Unless and until the housing market doldrums stabilize, solid economic growth will elude us.

courtesy U.S. Census Bureau, 11/9/11

Written by johnkilpatrick

November 9, 2011 at 8:24 am

Housing equilibrium — part 2

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My meanderings on housing equilibrium are about to become even more muddled, in a way, and clearer in others.

To wit… in the middle of the just-past decade, before the market started melting down, it was already apparent to researchers that the housing market looked decidedly different than it had before. It was clear that prior to about 1994, the homeownership rate had hovered around 64% for many years. Why, then, did it apparently take-off to higher ground and make a nearly non-stop upward run from then until about 2004?

The “run up” was the topic of a great paper by Matthew Chamber, Carlos Garriga, and Don Schlagenhauf of the Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank, produced as part of their working paper series in September, 2007. For a copy of it, go here.

Their focus was on the “run-up”. Our focus today is on the “run-down”. In short, if they can explain why ownership rates ballooned up in the past decade, then perhaps we’ll have some idea of how far down they will drop in the coming decade.

They find that as much as 70% of the change in homeownership rates can be explained by new mortgage products which came on the market during that period. “Easy money”, which is how this has been described in the press, made homeownership possible for millions of new owners. The remainder of the changes, in their study, are explained by demographic shifts.

There is some intuitive logic in all of this (as there usually is, ex-post, in good empirics). The American population got a bit older during the period in question, as the baby-boomers came into their own and also into an age bracket when homeownership makes a lot of estate and tax planning sense. Since these demographic shifts are still with us, and indeed continue to move in ownership-positive directions, it would suggest that a new equilibrium will probably fall out somewhere higher than the old one.

As of the most recent American Housing Survey, the current homeownership rate in America is 66.7% (down from 69.8% at the peak a few years ago). During the 80’s and 90’s (the boom which followed the 80’s recession), the rates held nearly constant at 64%. The FRB-Atlanta study thus suggests a new equilibrium somewhere between 64% and 66.7% (where we are today). In fact, if you concur that 70% of the boom came from mortgage products (which are no longer available) and the remainder from factors which ARE still at play, then one might surmise that the new equilibrium is close at hand.

Written by johnkilpatrick

January 17, 2011 at 6:41 pm

Tis the season….

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Intriguing mixed messages from the economy. Employment continues to lag, but holiday shopping was up. Go figure?

Two or three things may be in store. First, I’m sure that some of the more profitable businesses, fearing future tax increases, were holding off spending tax-deductable money until 2011 rather than 2010. The key lesson for lawmakers — get some stability and predictability into the tax system.

Second, while “on-line” shopping went up, the unmeasured impact of on-line was the ability to target shopping. Lots of holiday shopping went at bargain prices, and I’m interested to see how much sustainability there will be in the increases. It’s very difficult to imagine, with the underlying instability in economic fundamentals, just how long the shopping bubble can be sustained.

But, on to real estate. What looks good right about now? What looks bad? We continue to be doom-sayers on housing construction into 2011. Normally, in a recession, there’s a build-up of excess supply (construction in the pipeline pre-recession get unsold DURING the recession). However, past recessions rarely have a contemporaneous melt-down in homeownership rates (see the following).

Note that since we began keeping records in 1960, ownership rates have inexorably trended upward but for two instances — this one and the 1980-84 period. After 1984, it took until the mid-1990’s for rates to start trending upward again, and many would suggest that this up-trend was only the result of Greenspan’s “easy money” policies. In a more cautious lending environment, it’s hard to say where the true equilibrium might lie. However, it’s intriguing that the run-up in the 1970’s is often blamed on the high levels of inflation (making home ownership the favored “inflation hedge” for families) and that in the post-recession, low-inflation period of the late 80’s and early 90’s, rates seemed to hover around 64%.

If in fact that’s where the equilibrium lies, then the U.S. has about three more percentage points in owner-occupied homes to absorb. This absorption occurs in one of three ways — growth in the population, conversion of homes to other uses (usually rental in lower-end or transitional neighborhoods), or demolition. Whatever the reason, with the current slope of the trend-line (which, intriguingly, matches the slope of the 1980-84 period), we see that it took about 5 years (2004 through 2009) to get from about 69% to about 67%. At this rate, getting to 64% will take another 7 – 8 years, suggesting a best case scenario of stability in the 2016 range.

This scenario, interestingly enough, matches some of the employment-growth scenarios I’ve seen, which suggest we’re looking at the mid-to-late teens for unemployment to get back down to pre-recession levels.

So, if owner-occupied housing stinks, what looks good on the menu? Apartments. In very rough numbers, we WERE building about 1.5 million homes per year prior to the recession (year-in, year-out, with a HUGE amount of variance from year to year). Now-a-days, we’re building about a third of that or less, suggesting an un-met demand for housing of about a million units per year, more or less. Apartment construction also flat-lined during the recession, primarily because banks simply didn’t have the money to lend for construction financing. (Permanent money comes from other sources, and it’s available, but the construction financing problem is still with us.)

As credit continues to ease — particularly with the recent announcements by the FED in that regard — we can see some strong lights at the end of that tunnel. Good news for construction workers — their unemployment rates have been huge lately, but the same folks who drive nails for owner-occupied homes can also drive nails in apartment complexes. Easing credit in this area will thus fuel job growth, which also fuels consumption, home purchases, etc. Thus, addressing the housing demand/supply problem may be the most important single thing policy makers can do to restore the economy to good health.

Written by johnkilpatrick

December 16, 2010 at 9:57 am

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