A Freakonomics Radio listener named Kevin wrote in response to our recent episode called “Why Are Japanese Homes Disposable?” First, here’s a quick summary of that episode:
It turns out that half of all homes in Japan are demolished within 38 years — compared to 100 years in the U.S. There is virtually no market for pre-owned homes in Japan, and 60 percent of all homes were built after 1980. In Jiro Yoshida’s estimation, while land continues to hold value, physical homes become worthless within 30 years. Other studies have shown this to happen in as little as 15 years.
The Folly of Eminent Domain Takings of Failing Mortgage Loans By Price Fishback
Several cities around the country are considering using eminent domain to take control of troubled mortgages in their cities. An Associated Press example of how the proposal will work calls for the city to use eminent domain to force the lender to accept $150,000 for a $300,000 mortgage on a home that has a current market value of $200,000. The city would then refinance the loan while cutting the principal owed by the borrower to $190,000.
Eminent domain requires a public purpose for the taking of an asset. The public purpose claimed here is that property values and property tax revenues can be boosted by preventing a mass of foreclosure sales. Real estate studies do show that increasing numbers of foreclosure sales are associated with lower housing values in nearby neighborhoods. However, the spillover benefits of preventing foreclosures, tend to be focused on houses in nearby neighborhoods.
That is the surprising question asked (and answered) by David Blanchflower and Andrew Oswaldin a new working paper. If this effect is real, and if the mechanisms by which it occurs are true, then this paper is hugely important for policymakers, civic planners, and the rest of us:
We explore the hypothesis that high home-ownership damages the labor market. Our results are relevant to, and may be worrying for, a range of policy-makers and researchers. We find that rises in the home-ownership rate in a U.S. state are a precursor to eventual sharp rises in unemployment in that state. The elasticity exceeds unity: a doubling of the rate of home-ownership in a U.S. state is followed in the long-run by more than a doubling of the later unemployment rate. What mechanism might explain this? We show that rises in home-ownership lead to three problems: (i) lower levels of labor mobility, (ii) greater commuting times, and (iii) fewer new businesses. Our argument is not that owners themselves are disproportionately unemployed. The evidence suggests, instead, that the housing market can produce negative ‘externalities’ upon the labor market. The time lags are long. That gradualness may explain why these important patterns are so little-known.
Blanchflower, a Dartmouth economist who regularly writes for the Independent (U.K.), recently published an op-ed in that paper which applied these findings to the European situation:
In the L.A. Times, Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Nortonhighlight some of the more interesting recent findings in the field of happiness research. Two surprising examples from the article:
1. “A study of women in the United States found that homeowners were no happier than renters, on average. And even if you’re currently living in a cramped basement suite, you may find that moving to a nicer home has surprisingly little impact on your overall happiness. Researchers followed thousands of people in Germany who moved to a new home because there was something they didn’t like about their old home. In the five years after relocating, the residents reported a significant increase in satisfaction with their housing, but their overall satisfaction with their lives didn’t budge.” 2. “[D]ozens of studies show that people get more happiness from buying experiences than from buying material things. Experiential purchases — such as trips, concerts and special meals — are more deeply connected to our sense of self, making us who we are. And while it’s anyone’s guess where the American housing market is headed, the value of experiences tends to grow over time, becoming rosier in the rearview mirror of memory.”
A new working paper (abstract; PDF) looks at how the recent housing bust affected minorities. Economists Patrick Bayer, Fernando Ferreira, and Stephen L. Rosslooked at mortgage outcomes “for a large, representative sample of individual home purchases and refinances linked to credit scores in seven major US markets.” Here’s what they found:
Among those with similar credit scores, black and Hispanic homeowners had much higher rates of delinquency and default in the downturn. These differences are not readily explained by the likelihood of receiving a subprime loan or by differential exposure to local shocks in the housing and labor market and are especially pronounced for loans originated near the peak of the boom. Our findings suggest that those black and Hispanic homeowners drawn into the market near the peak were especially vulnerable to adverse economic shocks and raise serious concerns about homeownership as a mechanism for reducing racial disparities in wealth.
Three of my colleagues and friends at the University of Chicago — Kerwin Charles, Erik Hurst, and Matt Notowidigdo — recently presented some new research that aims to understand the ups and downs in the U.S. labor market. It’s more serious and important than the usual stuff we deal with on the blog, but every once in a while we deviate from trivialities when something really good comes along.
They’ve been kind enough to put together a layperson’s version of the research below. For those looking for the full-blown academic version, you can find that here.
A Structural Explanation for the Weak Labor Market By Kerwin Charles, Erik Hurst, and Matt Notowidigdo
In the aftermath of the Great Recession, the labor market has remained anemic. Between 2007 and 2010, the employment-to-population ratio of men between the ages of 21 and 55 with less than a four-year degree fell from 82.8 percent to 73.8 percent. As of mid-2012, the employment-to-population ratio for these men remained depressed at 75.6 percent.
In our new working paper (abstract; full PDF), we show that the recent sluggish labor market in the U.S. – particularly for prime age workers without a college degree – can be traced back to the large sectoral decline in manufacturing employment that occurred during the 2000s. After decades of relative stability, total manufacturing employment in the U.S. fell by 3.5 million jobs between the beginning of 2000 and the end of 2007 (see chart below). These manufacturing jobs were lost even before the Great Recession started. During the recent recession, another 2 million manufacturing jobs were lost. While there is talk of a recent manufacturing rebound in the U.S., the recent increase is only a tiny fraction of the total manufacturing jobs lost during the 2000s.
I’ve just gotten back home after a terrific few days at the Brookings Panel on Economic Activity. It’s my favorite gabfest of the year, featuring economic analysis that is both serious research, and also connected to ongoing policy debates. (OK, I’m biased–I’m an editor, and organize the conference along with Berkeley’s David Romer.) And while I think some of you may enjoy slogging your way through the latest papers, others may prefer your summaries simpler and lighter. So I went ahead and recorded a few short videos summarizing the papers. I hope you enjoy!
We’ve blogged before about the very common roommate/rent dilemma — that is, how to fairly split rent among roommates given that different rooms have different features. A reader named Michael Jancsy writes in with an auction solution and a request for feedback:
I recently designed an auction website [called “The Rent Is Too Damn Fair”] to help friends split apartments … The auction works by allowing each roommate to bid on each room in an apartment, and then identifies the permutation of roommates to rooms with the largest consumer surplus (sum of all bids minus rent paid to landlord) to decide who should live in what room. Each person’s rent is then calculated by dividing the surplus evenly over the occupants, so that the difference between a person’s bid and the rent paid is the same for each person.
A Bloomberg article by Virginia Postrel explores a discouraging trend in income inequality. For decades, incomes across states in the U.S. converged — i.e. poor states caught up to rich ones — just as Robert Solow‘s growth theory predicted:
Poor places are short on the capital that would make local labor more productive. Investors move capital to those poor places, hoping to capture some of the increased productivity as higher returns. Productivity gradually equalizes across the country, and wages follow. When capital can move freely, the poorer a place is to start with, the faster it grows.
That steady convergence, however, has stopped. One possible explanation? High housing prices in rich cities, caused by government regulation:
An NBER working paper (full PDF here) by Meghan R. Busse, Devin G. Pope, Jaren C. Pope, and Jorge Silva-Risso explores the role of projection bias when choosing a new car or house. It turns out that weather conditions are a huge factor when consumers are debating big purchases like houses or cars. The abstract:
Projection bias is the tendency to overpredict the degree to which one’s future tastes will resemble one’s current tastes. We test for evidence of projection bias in two of the largest and most important consumer markets – the car and housing markets. Using data for more than forty million vehicle transactions and four million housing purchases, we explore the impact of the weather on purchasing decisions. We find that the choice to purchase a convertible, a 4-wheel drive, or a vehicle that is black in color is highly dependent on the weather at the time of purchase in a way that is inconsistent with classical utility theory. Similarly, we find that the hedonic value that a swimming pool and that central air add to a house is higher when the house goes under contract in the summertime compared to the wintertime.
The most fundamental fact about rental housing in the United States is that rental units are overwhelmingly in multifamily structures. This fact surely reflects the agency problems associated with renting single-family dwellings, and it should influence all discussions of rental housing policy. Policies that encourage homeowning are implicitly encouraging people to move away from higher density living; policies that discourage renting are implicitly discouraging multifamily buildings.
Here’s a splendid diversion if you’re a data nerd, a history buff, or even just like good detective work: Tell the story of the family that lived in your house in 1940.
A bit more background. If you are in the United States, you probably remember participating in the Decennial Census in 2010. These forms are kept confidential for 72 years—roughly an average American’s life span. But this same rule means that today (actually, a couple of days ago), the 1940 Census results became public information. The good folks at the National Archives have scanned all of these census forms, and put them all online. With a bit of work, you should be able to find your house—or if you are in a newer neighborhood, perhaps a neighboring house.
Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum made headlines last week when he suggested that high gas prices made mortgages unaffordable, causing the recent housing bubble to burst and sending the economy into recession. It may sound far-fetched, but it is precisely the theory that I and a pair of coauthors presented in a working paper released five days before Santorum’s remarks.
We are actually a bit more nuanced, arguing that unexpectedly high gas prices triggered the collapse of the housing market — igniting a fire fueled by easy credit, lax lending practices, and speculation. It is a provocative claim and one with broad implications, but it is also a claim supported by economic theory and empirical evidence.
The federal government’s Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission asserted in its 2010 report that “it was the collapse of the housing bubble . . .that was the spark that ignited a string of events that led to a full-blown crisis in the fall of 2008.” And a broad, if not unanimous, consensus among economists suggests that the ongoing economic malaise was induced by a financial crisis caused by the housing crisis. Relatively less well-understood is what caused the housing crisis in the first place.
This is the first installment of a new Freakonomics.com feature from Sudhir Venkatesh. Each AI: Adventures in Ideas post will showcase new research, writing, or ideas.
A new book is garnering significant attention. In Going Solo, Eric Klinenberg, a sociologist at NYU, looks at a growing trend in contemporary adulthood: living alone. How we live, Klinenberg argues, is shifting, and it could be one of the most important developments of the last half-century.
While NAR hasn’t revealed exactly how big the revision to home sales will be, the agency’s chief economist Lawrence Yun said the decrease will be “meaningful.” …
Yun said the database NAR uses to track existing home sales, the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), has led the real estate agency to over-count existing home sales for several reasons.
The MLS database only includes home sales listed by realtors, and excludes homes listed by owners, providing a very narrow view of the market. And because more people are using realtors to list their homes instead of selling them independently, realtor-listed sales numbers have become artificially inflated, said Yun.
I cannot make sense of that last paragraph; can anyone else?
FWIW, back in 2007 we ran a Quorum on this blog asking the question “Is it time to believe in the housing bubble?” Lawrence Yun was one of the respondents:
As the article makes clear, this database performs a variety of worthwhile functions — allowing renters or buyers to locate affordable housing; letting affordable-housing advocates keep track of when subsidized buildings are scheduled to potentially lose their subsidized status; etc.
There’s one potential function the article didn’t mention, however. Am I a cynic (or a jerk, or maybe just a realist) for thinking that this database will also be used by renters and homebuyers eager to avoid neighborhoods that have a lot of subsidized housing?
A new research paper by Lisa Dettling and Melissa Schettini Kearney from the University of Maryland examines whether the fluctuation in home prices affects fertility rates. The authors used Vital Statistics data from 1990 – 2007, and Federal Housing Finance Agency Price Index (and alternately the Case-Shiller Index) to simulate equity/fertility correlations.
From the abstract:
Our estimates suggest that a 10 percent increase in house prices would lead to a 4 percent increase in births among home owners, and a roughly one percent decrease among non-owners.
A recent national survey indicates that “[o]ne in three Americans would be unable to make their mortgage or rent payment beyond one month if they lost their job.” Even higher-income households would find themselves in trouble quickly: “Ten percent of survey respondents earning $100K or more a year say they would immediately miss a payment.”
Even more Americans — 61 percent — wouldn’t be able to pay the rent or mortgage after five months of unemployment. Given the current state of the economy, it’s perhaps wise to heed Suze Orman‘s 2008 advice on this blog — she recommended an eight-month emergency savings fund.
I get it – people are angry. Very, very angry. I’m angry too. And Wall Street sure makes a great scapegoat, hence the Occupy Wall Street protest. Wall Street is a symbol of the “greed and corruption” that took over America and caused this whole mess.
But let’s take a minute to examine the facts and see if we can’t find some better scapegoats:
In 1997 Andrew Cuomo, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under Bill Clinton, allowed Fannie Mae to reduce the standards by which they would secure loans. This helped create the entire subprime category. Was this a bad thing? Of course not – it allowed more people to leave the ghetto, move to the suburbs, and achieve the American Dream of owning a home. Who knew that “Dream” would turn into a nightmare in a mere decade. Andrew Cuomo is not Nostradamus. We can blame him of course, but he had good intentions despite the negative results.
A new working paper from a quartet of economists proposes a new method of estimating how we value the “non-marketed amenities” of neighborhood choices such as avoiding pollution and living among people of our own race. The old static method, they say, underestimates our willingness to pay to avoid air pollution and crime, but overstates how much we value living near neighbors of our own race. Here’s the abstract:
It’s always been one of the supposed strengths of the American economy: the relative ease with which we’re able to pick up and move. This is particularly useful when times are tough and you need to unhinge from a weak local economy. The thing is, mobility tends to sag during economic downturns. The entire 1930s marked a period of relatively low internal migration, just as the booming post-war decades saw a significant rise.
The conventional wisdom today is that mobility is being dragged down by the housing crisis, that people underwater on their mortgage or reluctant to sell their home into a soft market are choosing to stay put.
But a new study from Notre Dame economist Abigail Wozniak, along with two colleagues at the Federal Reserve, Raven Molloy and Christopher L. Smith, throws some water on that theory by showing that states with high percentages of homeowners with negative equity are no more likely than other states to see a decline in long-distance migration of their residents.
Okay, okay, that’s not quite the message of a new working paper by Panle Jia Barwick and Parag A. Pathak called “The Costs of Free Entry: An Empirical Study of Real Estate Agents in Greater Boston.” But for those of us who have thought about the Realtor’s role in the housing market, it’s tempting to jump to that conclusion. Here’s the full version of the study, and here’s the abstract:
This paper studies the real estate brokerage industry in Greater Boston, an industry with low entry barriers and substantial turnover. Using a comprehensive dataset of agents and transactions from 1998-2007, we find that entry does not increase sales probabilities or reduce the time it takes for properties to sell, decreases the market share of experienced agents, and leads to a reduction in average service quality. These empirical patterns motivate an econometric model of the dynamic optimizing behavior of agents that serves as the foundation for simulating counterfactual market structures. A one-half reduction in the commission rate leads to a 73% increase in the number of houses each agent sells and benefits consumers by about $2 billion. House price appreciation in the first half of the 2000s accounts for 24% of overall entry and a 31% decline in the number of houses sold by each agent. Low cost programs that provide information about past agent performance have the potential to increase overall productivity and generate significant social savings.
I had only one friend on MySpace when I joined in 2005, Tom. In fact, everyone who joined MySpace was friends with Tom. He welcomed us all to our new cyber home and made us feel as comfortable as possible there. Tom is Tom Anderson, a co-founder of MySpace, and automatic friend to everyone who signed up.
So, through a strange set of circumstances and coincidences, Tom just emailed me. A great crime had been committed against me and Tom Anderson, my first friend on MySpace, wanted me to know about it.
Somebody had disagreed with me. Tom sent me a link to a site, realtytrac.com. He wrote me, “Btw, saw a rebuttal to your home-ownership article today that I thought you might be interested in:”
We’ve addressed the rent-splitting problem before. Now, Harvard astrophysics grad student Jonathan Bittner is seeking to solve the problem with a rent calculator to help roommates approximate fair prices in this “market.”
Ed Glaeser is an economist’s economist — as smart as they come, driven by empiricism, with something interesting to say about nearly anything. He has just published a new book, Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier. Glaeser argues that cities often get a bad rap even though they are “actually the healthiest, greenest, and richest (in cultural and economic terms) places to live. New Yorkers, for instance, live longer than other Americans; heart disease and cancer rates are lower in Gotham than in the nation as a whole. More than half of America’s income is earned in twenty-two metropolitan areas. And city dwellers use, on average, 40 percent less energy than suburbanites.”
We’re pleased to offer the following guest post from Glaeser on the glory of cities. I hope you find it as enthralling as I did.
One example was real-estate transactions. The more a customer can learn via the Internet about, say, a property for sale and similar properties, the less likely she is to make bad decisions. That said, there is still a lot of room for improvement. A reader named Sam Bauch describes his encounter with one particular area of information asymmetry in real-estate, and what he’s doing to stop it.
Paul Krugman and Robin Wells caricature my recent book Fault Lines in an article in The New York Review of Books. The article, and their criticism, however, do have a lot to say about Krugman’s policy views (for simplicity, I will say “Krugman” and “he” instead of “Krugman and Wells” and “they”), which I have disagreed with in the past. Rather than focus on the innuendo about my motives and beliefs in the review, let me focus on differences of substance. I will return to why I believe Krugman writes the way he does only at the end.