Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

December 1, 2014

Home Equity Insurance: Only Good in Theory?

By David Reiss

Smith and Harper have posted Home Equity Insurance & The Demise of Home Value Insurance Corporation to SSRN.  The abstract reads,

This study uses the demise of the Home Value Insurance Company (HVIC) to explore whether the concept of home equity insurance is implementable. Shiller, R. and Weiss, A. (1999) and Goetzmann, W., Caplin, A., Hangen, E., Nalebuff, B., Prentce, E., Rodkin, J., Spiegel, M. and Skinner, T. (2003) have provided a platform to evaluate this concept by questioning whether a product that allows homeowners to transfer the risk associated with a decline in housing prices should be structured as insurance. This study explores the cost associated, in the U.S. Real Estate Market, with this risk transfer process in the pre- and post-mortgage crisis periods by simulating the cost of insurance using the theoretical pricing of ATM (at the money) put options based upon the Black Scholes Option Pricing Model from 1989 to 2013. As the U.S. Housing Market transitioned from the pre-crisis to the post-crisis periods the hypothetical breakeven cost of insurance increased from 0.60% to 20.85% of the starting value of the index. The demise of HVIC seems to be a cautionary tale: Given the recent changes in the underlying dynamics of the U.S. Real Estate Market it does not seem prudent (for insurers) to use insurance contracts to transfer the risk associated with a decline in the value of U.S. Residential Equity Wealth.

This is all a bit technical, but basically it is an investigation of a clever idea that did not seem to pan out. Robert Shiller and others proposed that home owners could insure against a decrease in the value of their home.  But a company based on that proposal failed in its first year of operation. The article finds that the cost of such insurance would be unsustainable. I am not sure that this article definitively demonstrates that this concept is impossible to implement, but it certainly raises a lot of questions that would need to be answered if someone were to want to give it another go.

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