Get Ready for the Next Housing Bubble

Wendell Cox covers the recent global bursting of the housing bubble from an international perspective, and warns we may be setting ourselves up for another one. It’s worth a read over a the New Geography web site.

Among those that noticed [dangers in the housing market] were the Bank of International Settlements (the central bank of central banks) in Basle, which raised the potential of an international financial crisis to be set off by a bursting of the US housing bubble. Others, like Alan Greenspan, noticed, telling a Congressional Committee that “there was some froth” in local markets. Others, across the political spectrum, like Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman, Thomas Sowell and former Reserve Bank of New Zealand Governor Donald Brash both noticed and understood.

Missing the Housing Market Fundamentals: The housing market fundamentals were clear. With more liberal credit, the demand for owned housing increased markedly, virtually everywhere. In all markets of the United Kingdom and Australia, house prices rose so much that the historic relationship with household incomes was shattered. The same was true in some US markets, but not others (Figure 2).

On average, major housing markets in the United Kingdom experienced median house prices that increased the equivalent of three years of median household income in just 10 years (to 2007). The increases were pervasive; no major market experienced increases less than 2.5 years of income, while in the London area, prices rose by 4 years of household income. In Australia, house prices increased the equivalent of 3.3 years of income. Like the UK, the increases were pervasive. All major markets had increases more than double household incomes.

Based upon national averages, the inflating bubble appears to have been similar, though a bit more muted in the United States, with an average house price increase equal to 1.5 years of household income. But the United States was a two-speed market, one-half of which experienced significant house price increases and the other half which did not. In the price escalating half, house prices increased an average of 2.4 times incomes. The largest increases occurred in Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego, where house prices rose the equivalent of 5 years income. In the other half of the market, house prices remained within or near historic norms relative to incomes. A similar contrast is evident in Canadian markets. In some, house prices reached stratospheric and unprecedented highs, while in others, historic norms were maintained.

Wendell also does a nice job of highlighting the role of land use regulations played in artificially boosting housing prices by reducing supply. He notes:

These regulations, such as urban growth boundaries, building moratoria and other measures that ration land and raise its price collaborated to make it impossible for such markets to accommodate the increased demand without experiencing huge price increases (these strategies are often referred to as “smart growth”). In the other markets, less restrictive land use regulations allowed building new housing on competitively priced land and kept house prices under control. The resulting price distortions leads to greater speculation, as has been shown by economists Edward Glaeser and Joseph Gyourko.

In short, it’s the supply and demand side of the housing market that we need to consider, not just the demand side.

Samuel R. Staley, Ph.D. is a senior research fellow at Reason Foundation and managing director of the DeVoe L. Moore Center at Florida State University in Tallahassee where he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in urban planning, regulation, and urban economics. Prior to joining Florida State, Staley was director of urban growth and land-use policy for Reason Foundation where he helped establish its urban policy program in 1997.