Should We be Excited About the July New Home Sales Number?

The short answer is no. The July number was the worst July number since 1982; it just wasn’t as bad as the June number, which wasn’t as bad as the May number.

Everybody wants to know if we have hit bottom. There are three indicators suggesting we have–and three suggesting not. The good: prices in many markets have fallen below replacement cost (which is a pretty robust fundamental in the absence of population declines). Morris Davis at Wisconsin has shown that rent to price ratios have returned to be more in line with long term ratios, and given how low mortgage rates are, this is comforting. And resale inventories in California have dropped to under 4 months.

On the down side, we may have a lot of foreclosed houses coming at us in the next year. The employment picture is still atrocious. And if rents keep falling, prices will follow.

I would also guess that the first-time homebuyer tax credit is time-shifting sales, rather than raising them for the long term, but we shall see. On the other hand, the nature of investor sales is actually a positive indicator: investors are buying with cash and renting out units at decent rates of return. This is very different from the borrow, buy and flip model from the earlier part of this decade.

FWIW, I would assign a subjective probability of .7 that we are at bottom. On the other hand, around 2005, I assigned a .35 probability that we were about to face serious trouble.

About Richard K. Green 102 Articles

Affiliation: University of Southern California

Richard K. Green, Ph.D., is the Director of the USC Lusk Center for Real Estate. He holds the Lusk Chair in Real Estate and is Professor in the School of Policy, Planning, and Development and the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California.

Prior to joining the USC faculty, Dr. Green spent four years as the Oliver T. Carr, Jr., Chair of Real Estate Finance at The George Washington University School of Business. He was Director of the Center for Washington Area Studies and the Center for Real Estate and Urban Studies at that institution. Dr. Green also taught real estate finance and economics courses for 12 years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he was Wangard Faculty Scholar and Chair of Real Estate and Urban Land Economics. He also has been principal economist and director of financial strategy and policy analysis at Freddie Mac.

His research addresses housing markets, housing policy, tax policy, transportation, mortgage finance and urban growth. He is a member of two academic journal editorial boards, and a reviewer for several others.

His work is published in a number of journals including the American Economic Review, Journal of Economic Perspectives, Journal of Real Estate Finance and Economics, Journal of Urban Economics, Land Economics, Regional Science and Urban Economics, Real Estate Economics, Housing Policy Debate, Journal of Housing Economics, and Urban Studies.

His book with Stephen Malpezzi, A Primer on U.S. Housing Markets and Housing Policy, is used at universities throughout the country. His work has been cited or he has been quoted in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsweek and the Economist, as well as other outlets.

Dr. Green earned his Ph.D. and M.S. in economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He earned his A.B. in economics from Harvard University.

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