Value vs. affordability – how inflation affects home prices

homes for saleHome buyers have been tagged as being too picky for not buying homes this year. Surely home buyers have a right to be particular; after all, they’ll be spending a lot of time in the house – and spending a lot of money to get it too! But, maybe there are other reasons that home buyers have become hesitant.

Consider the uncertainty that immediately followed the Great Recession, when home sales volume dropped off. At that time home buyers seemed overly analytic, weighing many factors including short term value. Yet in truth they were fearful about economic uncertainty, and paying for a home that could potentially depreciate after closing.

The specter of another housing bubble in late 2013 may have seemed farfetched by many. But the double digit appreciation in many housing markets around the country reminded many home buyers of the environment that existed in the pre-downturn “go-go” market of 2005-2007. Anecdotal reports of bidding wars and high listing prices in early 2014 may have scared off some home buyers who reported not wanting to participate in such a market.

Reasons for home sales sluggishness during the latter part of this year may have been signs that the fear of a home price bubble was being realized by home buyers. As home buyers sought value, home sellers wanted higher home price appreciation. Was the psychology of fear playing a part in the ongoing home pricing struggle?

In hindsight, the limited housing inventory that existed during 2013 may have caused upward pressure on home prices by forcing increased competition among home buyers. The rapid home price appreciation may have also been the reason for many home owners to go to market. Brimming with listings, housing inventory swelled to levels not seen in years. Yet it may not be home prices per se that is at issue, but rather affordability.

Affordability goes beyond just the purchase price of a home. It comprises the overall costs of home ownership; which includes monthly mortgage payments, property taxes, homeowners’ insurance, regular and emergency maintenance, and utility costs. Putting aside home prices, home buyers are faced with the prospect of sharply inflating ownership costs. Consider the April 25th LA Times article reporting on utility costs (U.S. electricity prices may be going up for good; latimes.com); Ralph Vartabedian stated, “… the price of electricity has already been rising over the last decade, jumping by double digits in many states, even after accounting for inflation. In California, residential electricity prices shot up 30% between 2006 and 2012, adjusted for inflation, according to Energy Department figures. Experts in the state’s energy markets project the price could jump an additional 47% over the next 15 years.”

Savings also affect the affordability of a home. Marilyn Kennedy Melia, in her May 17th feature: Savings Habits and the Housing Market: American are saving less, issues with affording a home (nwitimes.com), reported that a lack of savings is preventing some home buyers from purchasing homes by not having enough for a down payment and/or little for homeownership costs. She described a recent Bankrate survey that indicated “…51 percent of Americans have more emergency savings than credit card debt, the lowest percentage since the financial site began tracking this issue in 2011.” Doug Robinson, of NeighborWorks America, was quoted to say, “Two-thirds of the people who faced foreclosure didn’t have any emergency savings…

© Dan Krell
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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

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