Saturday, March 11, 2006

DEMOGRAPHIA: 2nd Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey (2006)

DEMOGRAPHIA: 2nd Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey (2006)

Many analysts and much of the business press have followed the unprecedented housing cost price escalation with seeming glee, while ignoring the reality that household incomes have not been inflating at a corresponding rate. This superficial approach is both naïve and irresponsible. Any number of products might be imagined that might be converted into objects of financial speculation, at the same time as rendering a nation less prosperous. For example, massive and unprecedented price escalation, from speculation in food products or medical markets might serve the short-term interest of investors, while imposing broad detrimental effects. There is a public interest in maintaining house prices within the economic means of most households.

Oddly, the most affordable markets have sometimes been characterized as 'poor performers'. There are many losers when home prices become decoupled from the underpinning income realities. Middle income and lower income households find it impossible to afford the higher prices and may be relegated to renting for many additional years, if not a lifetime. The equity that they would have built up instead goes to the pockets of landlords. Others fortunate enough to afford the higher prices must settle for more modest houses, which are likely of lower quality. Many of households will be able to afford their own houses only through financial assistance from their parents, while those with less affluent parents will remain in rental units. Already there is evidence that the average age of first homebuyers is rising.

By reducing the share of households that can afford to buy homes, high Median Multiples inevitably lead to greater income disparity. Thus, to think of rising house prices as a good thing while ignoring the incomes that support them is to miss the point completely. Australian Reserve Bank Governor Ian MacFarlane emphasized this point in parliamentary testimony with reference to the unaffordable housing prices in Sydney.12 The reality, of course, is that the more affordable markets are the better performers by virtue of the higher standard of living that they facilitate for more households. However, the reality is that declining housing affordability has reached crisis proportions in many markets.

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