Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

February 18, 2016

Economic Factors That Affect Housing Prices

By David Reiss

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S&P has posted a paper on Economic Factors That Affect Housing Prices. This is, of course, an important topic, albeit one that is an art as well as a science. While S&P undertook this analysis more for mortgage-backed securities investors than for anyone else, it certainly is of use to the rest of us. The paper opens,

The U.S. domestic housing market has experienced a 23% price increase since the beginning of the housing recovery in 2011. Many local housing markets are now close to or above their peak levels of 2006, which leads us to investigate whether the pace of home price appreciation (HPA) can continue at its current pace. In this paper, we (1) examine the economic factors that influence HPA and (2) forecast HPA for numerous geographic regions assuming various economic conditions over the next five years. While the aggregate national pattern in housing prices is an important reference, we need to examine housing prices at a more granular geographic level in order to understand regional housing market dynamics and learn how these are affected by local macroeconomic factors. This paper demonstrates that several economic variables are needed to predict average home price movements for each of 48 different U.S. metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs).

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Factors that influence HPA can be difficult to predict. Therefore, residential mortgage backed securities (RMBS) investors frequently use a range of HPA projections to estimate their potential bond returns. With that in mind, for each MSA, we considered five separate hypothetical economic scenarios, ranging from an “Upside” forecast to an extreme “Stress 3” case. Interestingly, our Stress 3 case forecasts a 28% decline in HPI at the national level over the next five years, which corresponds roughly to the decline experienced in the last recession. Our “base case” scenario leads to forecasts at the national level of a 26% increase in HPI over five years. This represents what we believe to be the most likely economic forecast. (1-2)

S&P’s key findings include:

  • Movement in HPA is primarily influenced by up to five variables, depending on the MSA: housing affordability, changes in shadow inventory, the unemployment rate, the TED spread [a measure of distress in the credit markets], and population growth.
  • HPA in many MSAs has momentum, meaning that it depends on its level in the previous quarter of observation.
  • The mortgage rate generally appears to have little predictive power in connection with home prices.
  • Chicago, Houston, Boston, and San Francisco are projected to appreciate at a greater pace (45%, 40%, 27%, and 36%, respectively) than the 26% forecast for the nation as a whole over the next five years, and New York at a slower pace (21%). Columbus led all MSAs with a projected five-year HPA of 50%.
  • Under our most pessimistic (Stress 3) scenario, Chicago is forecast to experience a greater decline in HPI (34%) over the next five years than the nation as a whole (29%), while New York, Boston, Houston, and San Francisco are projected to experience declines that are less severe than that of the nation (19%, 3%, 17%, and 16%, respectively). Markets that have been vulnerable in the past (Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Riverside) are projected to experience the greatest five-year declines under our Stress 3 scenario (66%, 68%, and 68%). The markets that show the greatest movements are the most sensitive to the five factors and frequently show the greatest upside and downside. (2-3, emphasis in the original)

I found the first and third bullet points to be the most interesting, as many pundits weigh in on the factors that affect housing prices. It will be interesting to see if further research confirms S&P’s findings.

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