Should House Prices Still Be Falling?

I’m not sure. According to the National Association of Realtors, the median house price in the US is $170,500. The most recent American Housing Survey data from 2008 shows median rent at $ 808 per month, and the CPI-Rent index is essentially flat since 2008. This means the cash flow cost of renting is $9696 per year.

If we assume the mortgage interest rate on a 30-year fixed rate mortgage is 4.5 percent, the cost of home equity is 10 percent, a buyer puts 20 percent down on a house, property taxes are one percent of house value, marginal income tax rates (state and local) are 25 percent, maintanence costs are one percent per year, and amortized closing costs are another one percent per year, the cash cost of owning is $12,162 per year.

But the median rental unit is 1300 square feet and the median owner unit is 1800 square feet, so owning the median owner unit costs about 10 percent less per square foot than renting the median rental unit. This means house prices could fall and, in some places at least, still leave the owner better off than renters.

Neither renter nor owner markets are national, but I am hard pressed to think of a time when owning on a cash-flow basis looks so reasonable relative to renting.

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About Richard K. Green 103 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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