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Housing Affordability at All-Time High

Ezra Klein is a bit bemused:

In a further signal that economic indices have a taste for irony, an index released by the National Association of Realtors shows that housing affordability was at an all-time high in December. A family earning the median income has 158.8 percent of the income needed to qualify for the mortgage on a median-priced house. And prices are likely to fall even further in the coming months. It’s going to be a good time to buy, even if it’s not going to be a good time to, you know, keep your job. And hey, it’s (probably) a safer investment than the stock market.

Now, I’m dubious of statistics provided by interest groups, so take NAR’s claims with a grain of salt.  But Ezra isn’t challenging the stats but rather the suggestion that it’s good news.

But, barring this thing getting far worse than any reasonable projections I’ve seen, virtually everyone will in fact keep their job.   Is anyone suggesting unemployment rates even as high as 10 percent?  So, this means that the market has responded correctly to a bursting bubble: Prices for housing have dropped to levels affordable to the people who need to buy them.   That’s a good thing.

In troubled times, it makes sense to be prudent.   But, while irrational exuberance is hazardous, so is irrational gloominess. Acting as if you’re destitute because slightly more people are experiencing bad times than were doing so a few months ago is not only bad for your own quality of life but contributes to a vicious cycle that slows down the recovery.

If you were otherwise going to go out to a restaurant, buy a new car, or move from an apartment into a house and have no specific reason to think your job’s going away, why wouldn’t you go ahead an do those things?

Photo by Flickr user HolyHolySnappers under Creative Commons License.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He earned a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Rick DeMent says:

    If you were otherwise going to go out to a restaurant, buy a new car, or move from an apartment into a house and have no specific reason to think your job’s going away, why wouldn’t you go ahead an do those things?

    Cause anyone who thinks their job is safe is either a fool or works for the government.

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  2. Eneils Bailey says:

    In a further signal that economic indices have a taste for irony, an index released by the National Association of Realtors shows that housing affordability was at an all-time high in December

    Yeah, there’s some damn good deals out there.
    As a matter of fact, I just called Barney Frank’s and Chris Dodd’s offices to check and see if they could get me some of that great “Country wide” financing.
    I get back to you as soon as I hear from them.

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  3. James Joyner says:

    Cause anyone who thinks their job is safe is either a fool or works for the government.

    But nobody’s job is ever safe.

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  4. Andrew Kno says:

    I think stating that “virtually no one will lose their job” is going too far. Additionally, citing the possible/probable unemployment rate as evidence is questionable. On the other hand, I tend to agree with you that fear seems to be in the air these days, and that the situation may not merit such trepidation.

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  5. tom says:

    “Is anyone suggesting unemployment rates even as high as 10 percent?”

    UE as a raw statistic can (and is right now) highly misleading. A more accurate measure would be to look at labor force part rate (falling) and hours worked (also falling). CalculatedRisk has a graph with the number of people who are currently holding part time jobs for economic reasons hitting 8 million, up over 3.5 million from the recession in 2001-2002.

    “Now, I’m dubious of statistics provided by interest groups, so take NAR’s claims with a grain of salt.”

    Good. Can you tell us if the index they use includes average debt for individuals? If it doesn’t it is going to be extremely misleading as housing prices dropping will give the appearance of making a home more affordable when it ignores the fact that falling prices put individuals underwater making it harder for them to move. Good news for renters, bad news for current home owners and banks.

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  6. James Joyner says:

    I think stating that “virtually no one will lose their job” is going too far.

    Which is why I didn’t say that but rather that “virtually everyone will in fact keep their job.” Employment still tops 94 percent. I’m not downselling the personal tragedy for those who are jobless — I’ve been there, more than once — just saying that, for the rest of us, life goes on.

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  7. James Joyner says:

    Can you tell us if the index they use includes average debt for individuals? If it doesn’t it is going to be extremely misleading as housing prices dropping will give the appearance of making a home more affordable when it ignores the fact that falling prices put individuals underwater making it harder for them to move.

    As noted in the post, I’m not assessing the reliability of the study as an indicator, merely commenting on Ezra’s argument that joblessness trumps housing prices.

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  8. tom p says:

    But, barring this thing getting far worse than any reasonable projections I’ve seen, virtually everyone will in fact keep their job. Is anyone suggesting unemployment rates even as high as 10 percent?

    I read a couple people who said that, but I can not remember who and doubt their reliability any way.

    But I went looking and found this interesting stat from the Bureau of Labor Statistics: Construction right now has an effective unemployment rat of 15.3% and if it hits 20% in the next 3 months I won’t be surprised at all. Housing is dead and there has been a huge retraction in commercial as well (a rare double whammy for us).

    I know guys who have been out for 6+ mos and while I expect to be back at work some time this spring, I am not getting my long term hopes up. This industry will be depressed for a long time.

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  9. Eneils Bailey says:

    I know guys who have been out for 6+ mos and while I expect to be back at work some time this spring, I am not getting my long term hopes up. This industry will be depressed for a long time.

    And while you are thinking about this situation, get your “Thank-You” cards off to Barney Frank and Chris Dodd.
    My heart bleeds for the jobless folk and and people that are not or under-employed. Hope you do well. But, just remember, who you vote for is sometimes more important than who you work for.

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  10. tom p says:

    And while you are thinking about this situation, get your “Thank-You” cards off to Barney Frank and Chris Dodd.

    and Phil Graham and Larry Summers and Paul O’Neil, and Alan Greenspan, and…

    Jesus, I can’t afford the postage!

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  11. steve s says:

    Is anyone suggesting unemployment rates even as high as 10 percent?

    well, U-5, which includes me, is currently at 8.3%

    And while you are thinking about this situation, get your “Thank-You” cards off to Barney Frank and Chris Dodd.

    Right. Because Barney Frank and Chris Dodd were in control of congress during the housing bubble… Barney Frank was pushing The Ownership Society, rather than working on rental housing… Dude, Red State and Powerline are over there. This place is supposed to be for smart conservatives.

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  12. steve s says:

    I’ve got a degree in physics and an electrician’s license. And I can barely keep the lights on in my trailer by supplementing my income by tutoring math to high school students. 5 years ago, living in Raleigh, putting myself through school, I could charge $35 an hour*. Nowadays, if someone calls, and I say $20 an hour, I usually never hear from them again. This economy SUUUUUUUUCCCCCCKKKKKKKKKSSSSSSSS. If you think it doesn’t you probably just feel secure in your job.

    (*not as great as it sounds. You can usually only tutor from 4 pm to 6pm, and not on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.)

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  13. steve s says:

    When I first moved back here, for 6 months the only job I could get was 4 hrs per week @ $15 an hour. After payroll taxes (Estate Tax, highest-bracket income tax…hmm…the GOP seldom talks about wanting to cut my payroll tax…) my checks were $215 a month. $215 a month. According to the U-3 numbers, the ones James is using, I was employed. That is BULLSHIT. U-5 or U-6 represent reality. The real unemployment rate right now is 8-12%. And it’s expected to get worse.

    PS–no phil gramm, no george will, this is not a mental or imaginary recession. You idiots.

    PS2–thanks Barney Frank, for working to make apartment rental affordable for poor people like me. I could use a damn break.

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  14. […] only is this a great time to buy real estate, but the market correction is sorely needed on the coasts and in the more prosperous cities […]

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  15. momof3 says:

    Where are the houses affordable? I live in MA and am looking for a house. I toured one the other day for a starting price of $175,000 that the agent didn’t even want our kids in because the smell of mold was overwhelming, you could have skated in the kitchen on the 1 in layer of ice from some kind of water (could been from a pipe, roof leak, etc.), holes in the walls… How is that affordable housing? If you want anything remotely livable in this area, your min starting price is $250,000. Add that mortgage rate per month to PMI, taxes, garbage rates, sewage and water, electricity, and usually oil or gas heat, we’re talking a monthly payment of $2000 per month in the summer to $2500 in the winter depending on oil prices.

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  16. Drew says:

    Recent data on median housing prices, and the aggregate losses incurred in residential housing value suggest much of the correction may be over.

    In round numbers $6B was the estimate of “over-valuation” of the housing stock at the 2005/2006 peak. That is about what has been lost now. Second, if you look at the inflation adjusted long term price trend, a median housing price in the vicinity of $185K seems reasonable. We are in that neighborhood.

    Of course, general economic conditions and inventory overhang could cause the price to “over shoot” on the downside. However, even in very difficult economic times of the past, a certain fundamental support level in housing seems to be reached. That is the nature of asset blow offs. When the correction is done, what seemed like free fall forever…. stops suddenly. Intrinsic value gets recognized.

    Steve Verdon has posted repeatedly that the spending bill, er, stimulus bill, may hit at exactly the point in time when recovery is underway. The housing statistics, not to mention history, has him looking pretty good right now.

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  17. Drew says:

    PS –

    Anybody know what the current “house PE” is today??

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