Housing was the epicenter of the last recession. From the peak in 2005 to the end of the contraction in mid-2009, U.S. residential investment declined at an unprecedented rate of about 20 percent a year. In normal business cycles, sectors that overshoot to the downside tend to rebound sharply. Given the significant oversupply of homes and tightening of credit, housing enjoyed no such recovery. Residential investment was essentially flat for almost two years after the recession ended. Since then, a slow recovery has been underway and we suspect the housing market will pick up in the year ahead.
Although residential investment has been expanding since 2011, recent growth has been sluggish, rising just 1.1 percent over the last year, compared with about 7 percent in the two previous years. Some of this weakness can be attributed to a housing market in transition: Owner-occupied real estate is recovering as renter-occupied real estate is declining. Also, multi-family construction is ebbing as single-family building picks up. With inventories tight, home resales appear to have flattened out as new home sales take a greater share. In other words, conditions in the U.S. housing market are normalizing. That’s a good thing.
There are good reasons to expect residential investment to pick up after sluggish growth this year.
Consumer attitudes are strong, supporting housing demand. It helps that general economic conditions have improved. According to the latest University of Michigan Survey, more people say now is a good time to buy a home because of “prosperous times.” This is a notable difference from the bubble period of 2005-06 and suggests a recovery built on firmer ground.
More respondents say now is a good time to buy a home because “prices won’t come down” and because it’s a “good investment.” Price expectations matter. The improvement in household buying attitudes, helps keep user costs low. In a standard user cost of housing model, the expected value of the home offsets maintenance costs such as mortgage interest and property taxes and depreciation. No one wants to finance an asset class they believe will go down in value. Thus, it is welcome that consumers see housing as a solid investment once again.