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JCHS: Pent-Up Demand for Additional Household Formation is Fraught with Uncertainties

by George Masnick

Fellow

In early 2011, economists at the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) reported that the slowdown in household formation that started in 2007 with the advent of the Great Recession had produced a 2.1 million household formation shortfall by 2010. The authors concluded that the demand for new housing should accelerate dramatically once the economic recovery releases this “pent-up” demand. Another pent-up demand calculation, by Jed Kolko at Trulia, estimated 2.6 million “missing households” in 2010. After three additional years in which the economy has improved on many fronts – albeit at a slow pace – the 2013 Trulia deficit in the household count was still estimated at 2.4 million. But how solid are these estimates and how likely is it that household formation rates will return to pre-recession levels?

 

One difficulty in making these calculations is that actual household growth estimates since 2007 vary considerably from year to year and are inconsistent among data sets (Figure 1). There is good reason to believe that the most widely used data to track household growth, the Housing Vacancy Survey (HVS, used in the NAHB calculation), has seriously underestimated the number of US households – and as a result household growth – since a revision in methodology in 2003.  The HVS’s average annual estimate of household growth since 2007 of 550-600,000 contrasts with the American Community Survey’s (ACS) estimate of 700-800,000 new households annually and the higher Current Population Survey (CPS) growth numbers of over 1 million new households annually since 2010. Without agreement on actual levels of household growth since 2007, it is quite impossible to gauge the shortfall in growth, and therefore the probable level of pent-up demand.

052114_masnick_figure1


Notes: 2013 ACS not available.  2010-2013 growth for the ACS a two-year average of 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 data.

 

The method used to estimate the “normal” level of household growth also matters. The NAHB number was based on a simple difference between “actual” household growth estimates for the 2007-2010 period, and a straight line trending of HVS household growth prior to 2007. Over the very short run this approach may be appropriate, but would not be expected to hold up over a longer period.

 

Kolko’s calculations are more sophisticated. Using CPS data, he computes the change in age-specific headship rates (the share of persons in an age group that head an independent household) from the average 2000-07 pre-recession levels. This change, when multiplied by the official annual population estimates for each year, gives the deficit in number of household formations in each age group due to changes in the propensity to form households. This method corrects for the effects on household formation of simple changes in the size and age structure of the adult population, which the NAHB method does not take into account. But what Kolko’s calculation does not control for is the increasing share of minorities in the population. And since Hispanics and Asians have lower headship rates than non-Hispanic whites this oversight is not trivial (Figure 2). In fact, a certain amount of the decline in household formation is due to the changing race/Hispanic origin composition of the population and not to the recent economic downturn.

 

This issue is exacerbated by an undercounting of growth in Hispanics and Asians over the past decade, as revealed by the results of the 2010 Census. The underestimating of Hispanic and Asian shares of the population in the CPS during the 2000s also means that pre-2010 CPS headship values are biased upward by overcounting the white share, due to incorrect population weights in the CPS survey, making the 2000-2007 benchmark headship rates too high, and exaggerating the decline in age-specific headship pre-versus-post recession.

 

Even controlling for both age and race/Hispanic origin in the different surveys, we know that household formations have slowed relative to pre-recession levels, we just do not know by how much given concerns just discussed. We also know that the slowdown is likely a consequence of the recession. But, we are uncertain about whether the reduced level of household formation has been primarily driven by economic factors, or whether it is the result of more fundamental changes in attitudes and behavior regarding independent living by today’s young adults that might be partly recession-driven, but may also have deeper roots.

 

Lower rates of labor force participation, lower incomes of those in the labor force, rising rents, greater student loan debt and tight mortgage lending conditions are economic factors that could partly explain low levels of independent household formation. But we do not know whether these effects are likely to be short-term or long-term as an improving economy and governmental initiatives could reverse many of these factors quite quickly.

 

But trends in college and graduate school enrollment, the structure of the labor force, the timing of marriage and childbearing, and attitudes about co-residence might lead millennials to form independent households according to a different timetable than the generations that preceded them, regardless of economic conditions. Going back to school for retraining is becoming increasingly necessary for technology oriented jobs in a rapidly changing economy. Employment in start-ups, freelance work, and spells of temporarily working long hours in different jobs and on various projects, followed by periods of downtime, are increasingly common. The timing and sequence of important life-course decisions such as co-habitation, marriage, and childbearing have become more fluid. Intergenerational interdependency at various life-course stages has also changed, with parents playing a larger role in financially supporting their children as young adults, in helping to raise grandchildren, and in opening their homes for spells of co-residence when their children ask. These factors may have inertia that will make them less responsive to economic changes.

052114_masnick_figure2
Source: Joint Center tabulations of CPS data.  Average of 2011, 2012 and 2013 values.

 

And even if market forces are the primary reasons for depressed rates of household formation, geographic variations in job and income growth and housing costs and availability mean that the magnitude and pace with which pent-up household formation is released should vary in different parts of the country. For all these reasons calculations about the extent of pent-up demand for housing and speculation about its causes, when demand will be released, and what kind of housing will be required to meet future demand are fraught with uncertainties. The latest Joint Center household projections hold household formation rates constant at average 2011-2013 levels, making no allowance for the future release of pent-up demand, and should therefore be considered conservative.

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CR: Understanding the Existing Home Sales Report

Understanding the Existing Home Sales Report

by Bill McBride on 1/23/2013  

The reporting on the Existing Home sales report was pretty negative yesterday even though I thought it was a solid report. And some of the positive reports were about prices – the NAR reported “The national median existing-home price for all housing types was $180,800 in December, which is 11.5 percent above December 2011” – and I completely ignore the median price.  What gives?

First, on prices, the median is impacted by the mix, and the mix changed in 2012 with fewer low end foreclosures.  I think the median price should be ignored during periods when the mix is changing (with all the repeat sales indexes available, I mostly ignore median prices all the time).

And on sales, the lead for many articles was that seasonally adjusted sales declined in December compared to November, and that sales were below the consensus forecast.   There were some suggestions that this called into question the “housing recovery”.   Nonsense.

What is a “housing recovery”?  There are really two recoveries: House prices and residential investment.  Most people – homeowners and potential buyers – focus on prices, and for prices we should use the repeat sales indexes, and not the NAR median price (repeat sales indexes include Case-Shiller, CoreLogic, etc).  What matters in the NAR report for prices is inventory and months-of-supply.  And inventory is at the lowest level since January 2001, and months-of-supply fell to 4.4 months – the lowest since May 2005.

But for GDP and jobs, the key is what the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) calls “residential investment” (RI) .  For existing homes, only the broker’s commission is part of GDP, but for new homes the entire sales price is part of GDP.  There are some spillover effects from home sales (furniture, landscapting, etc), but those aren’t included in RI.

Residential Investment ComponentsClick on graph for larger image.

This graph shows the components for RI as a percent of GDP. According to the BEA, RI includes new single family structures, multifamily structures, home improvement, broker’s commissions, and a few minor categories (dormitories, manufactured homes).

Usually the most important components are investment in single family structures followed by home improvement.

Right now home improvement is the largest category, but new single family structures will be the largest component soon.  Broker’s commissions is usually the third largest category and is relatively small compared to single family investment and home improvement.

So if existing home sales decline there is a minor impact on RI and GDP.  When we talk about the “housing recovery” for jobs and GDP, existing home sales are mostly irrelevant – the focus should be on new home sales, housing starts and home improvement.

On home improvement, from the NAHB: Remodeling Market Remains Strong in the Fourth Quarter

The Remodeling Market Index (RMI) reached 55 in the fourth quarter of 2012, increasing five points from the previous quarter, according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). This is the highest reading since the first quarter 2004.

An RMI above 50 indicates that more remodelers report market activity is higher (compared to the prior quarter) than report it is lower. The overall RMI averages ratings of current remodeling activity with indicators of future remodeling activity.

“Remodelers are optimistic about the outlook for slow and steady market growth in the new year,” said 2013 NAHB Remodelers Chairman Bill Shaw, GMR, GMB, CGP, a remodeler from Houston. “Professional remodelers reported more work from large and small projects as well as overall home repair.”

Finally, as I mentioned yesterday, as the number of distressed sales decline, the number of total sales might decline too – but we need to look at the number of conventional sales – and conventional sales have been increasing.  That is probably a sign of a healing market.

I don’t expect much of an increase in existing home sales in 2013, and I wouldn’t be surprised by a decline depending on the number of foreclosures this year. But I think the housing recovery will remain fairly strong with new home sales and housing starts up sharply again this year.

Read more at http://www.calculatedriskblog.com/2013/01/understanding-existing-home-sales-report.html#8L4G2HQkf3Tf4D2h.99

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