An argument for why we should be hearing more about falling home prices

The last several years have seen many stories published and produced about homes and home values. But Dan Froomkin argues that we should be hearing even more about how home values continue to fall:

You might not know it from reading the news, but the nation’s housing prices are in free fall again…

Despite the fact that the nation is officially in a period of economic recovery, the latest data show that home prices are diving. One recent survey pegged the decline at 0.7 percent per month; another found prices down 5.8 percent between August and October.

One analysis found  home values will likely drop more than $1.7 trillion this year, on top of the $1.05 trillion drop in 2009. That would bring the loss in wealth to $9 trillion since the June 2006 market peak, when the housing stock was valued at about $24 trillion…

Dean Baker, co-director of the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research, tells me the story isn’t getting nearly as much coverage as it should — if nothing else because “as you see a drop in home equity, you also see a drop in consumption.”…

What that means is that another trillion-dollar loss in housing wealth — something that could easily happen by next fall — translates to $50 billion to $70 billion less consumption; sort of an anti-stimulus.

This is obviously not good news. I wonder what Froomkin would say the value is in having Americans hear this story more often and with more emphasis: would people be moved to act in certain ways, like making requests of politicians to do something or trying to get out of homeownership?

A link is made in this story between home values, consumption, and jobs. So if this is a vicious cycle that involves these three factors, where do we begin in trying to reverse the trend? With tax cuts – or extensions of tax cuts? It sounds like the one issue that would help out the others is jobs. If more people had good-paying and stable jobs, they would spend more overall and some of these issues of home values wouldn’t be as much of a concern.

h/t Instapundit

Places with most affordable homes not exactly hot spots has a feature on the five most affordable metro areas. While the home costs are attractive, there might be reasons why these places have such low median home prices. Here are the five most affordable places
(ranked by an affordability score) and the median home values:

1. Syracuse, NY $88,000

2. Indianapolis, IN $113,000

3. Detroit, MI $85,000

4. Youngstown, OH $74,000

5. Buffalo, NY $112,000

This list of five rust-belt cities needs a lot more context to be valuable.

Proclaiming the end of the “McMansion era”

CNBC reports that the real estate site says “the McMansion era is over.” This is based on evidence that more people want smaller homes:

Just 9 percent of the people surveyed by Trulia said their ideal home size was over 3,200 square feet. Meanwhile, more than one-third said their ideal size was under 2,000 feet.

“That’s something that would’ve been unbelievable just a few years back,” said Pete Flint, CEO and co-founder of Trulia. “Americans are moving away from McMansions.”

The comments echoed those made in June by Kermit Baker, the chief economist at the American Institute of Architects.

“We continue to move away from the McMansion chapter of residential design, with more demand for practicality throughout the home,” Baker said. “There has been a drop off in the popularity of upscale property enhancements such as formal landscaping, decorative water features, tennis courts, and gazebos.”

“McMansions just look and feel out of place today, given the more cautious environment everyone’s living in,” said Paul Bishop, vice president of research for the National Association of Realtors.

And homebuilders are heeding the call: In a survey of builders last year, nine out of 10 said they planned to build smaller or lower-priced homes.

This is interesting information – the McMansion was and is commonly cited as part of the excess of the late 1990s and early 2000s. But I have a few questions and thoughts:

1. We are in the middle of a housing crisis, one that is virtually unprecedented in recent history. Could these results simply be the result of this period? Look at the data over time: Americans since 1950 have progressively wanted larger homes. Might this change as soon as the economy or housing market picks up again?

1a. We would have to wait and see whether this shift might be a longer-term move to an emphasis on quality and appointments rather than sheer space. Since family size has dropped over the years, it makes sense that homes might not get so large. Or perhaps more people subscribe to some green ideas about having a small footprint.

2. There is still some demand for homes over 3,200 square feet. If you look at the Trulia infographics, most people seem to want homes around the 2,000-2,600 square foot range. These are not small homes – they would be slightly smaller than the average size of new homes built in most years of the 2000s and are larger than most American homes built after World War II.

3. This is survey data which gives us some measure of what people want to buy. However, people still have to make choices on the open market – will they turn down larger houses for smaller houses for an extended amount of time?

4. Will home prices go down or stay low in the long run – or will builders make up for having smaller homes with more features that will cost more?

5. There are some questions about whether a downturn in McMansions is part of a larger, more radical shift toward a new kind of suburbia. Perhaps. But even if this were the case, it would take a while for these new developments to be large enough in number to counter the typical views of suburbia and it would also require Americans to develop a new sense of community.