by Dan Krell
There has been a lot that has been written about chaos theory, and some have even tried to apply it to real estate. More specifically, many have discussed the application of chaos theory to real estate investing. And even more recently there have been attempts to applying chaos theory in figuring out where housing is headed; or to be succinct – when will housing once again begin to realize consistent appreciation?
I’m not one to disappoint, but I can’t predict the future. However, my attempt to explain chaos theory may reveal how its application to the housing market is difficult at best (at least in today’s environment), yet while simultaneously is an exceptional exercise in understanding the underlying dynamics.
Chaos theory is somewhat of a misnomer; a more apt name might have been “pattern to equilibrium theory” as it’s not so much about chaos as it is about predicting natural patterns that seek equilibrium; or put another way – predicting results by looking at dynamic patterns. Equilibrium could be what we typically think it is – a pattern of a self sustaining system; or it could also mean a pattern of inertia to the system’s inevitable demise.
Simplified, chaos theory investigates the relationships and patterns of a system’s trend toward stability. The theory delves into the natural patterns of subsystems so as to predict how patterns develop and unfold to manifest themselves.
Although mathematicians have been investigating the precursors for chaos theory for many years, one of its first practical applications was in trying to predict the natural patterns of the weather. So it makes sense that you might want to apply the theory to the housing market so you could figure out the best time to buy and sell. The problem in the theory’s application to the housing market is that unlike the weather, housing is not an “organic” system; housing does not follow the natural unfettered patterns of market forces. Rather, decades of intervention and policy have influenced the expressed patterns of the housing market.
But don’t get discouraged, an aspect of chaos theory termed “the butterfly effect” explains that any action, no matter how small and insignificant, can influence a larger system. So, although the housing market is not an organic system, you could theoretically investigate its related influences to work out a market trajectory. So, rather than solely considering supply and demand, you might take into account more wide ranging and complex influences, such as Greek economic policies, German parliamentary elections, EU monetary policy, etc.
By looking at observable influences on the housing market, housing contrarians have been muttering their mantra of “the sky is falling” for years. And when the housing bubble burst, they of course claimed they had it right all along, and many are still waiting for the worst. Was it a coincidence? Of course, in the early 2000’s there were influences on housing and the economy that were inconceivable (such as mortgage CDO schemes).
Chaos theory is as complex as the systems involved. We can also apply it to come up with alternate trajectories and think about what could have been. If for not some small event, someone’s seemingly insignificant decision in the past, there might not have been a housing bubble burst or great recession. But as they say hindsight is 20/20 – but that’s an entirely different theory.
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This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of December 17, 2012. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © 2012 Dan Krell.