Changes in the housing market are often delayed in inflation data, which can make things difficult for the Fed. Housing is one of the most weighted categories when tracking inflation, but it’s also one of the most complicated to measure. WSJ’s David Harrison explains how the shelter index is calculated, and why it can muddy the inflation outlook for the Fed. Illustration: Laura Kammermann
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Prices for the American dream home have skyrocketed. The U.S. housing market has been an unlikely beneficiary from Covid-19. The pandemic encouraged city dwellers to move to the suburbs as families looked for home offices and bigger yards.
Segments: 00:00 – Why the U.S. is facing a housing shortage (May 2021) 12:37 – How suburban sprawl shapes the U.S. economy (February 2022) 25:49 – How did rent become so unaffordable in the U.S. (December 2021) 34:46 – Is the U.S. in a housing bubble? (September 2021)
“Everybody expected housing to really sort of dry up with the rest of the economy,” said National Association of Home Builders CEO Jerry Howard. “And in fact, the opposite has happened. People who have been sort of scared out of the cities by the pandemic.”
With homeowners unwilling to sell, a record low supply of homes for sale has forced buyers into intense bidding wars. According to the National Association of Realtors, the U.S. has under built its housing needs by at least 5.5 million units over the past 20 years. That’s a stark comparison to the previous housing bubble in 2008 when overbuilding was the issue. Higher costs for land, labor and building materials including lumber have also impacted homebuilders.
However, according to most experts, the market is shaping up to look more like a boom rather than a bubble. “We say bubble because we can’t believe how much prices have gone up,” CNBC real estate correspondent Diana Olick said. “A bubble tends to be something that’s inflated that could burst at any minute and change and that’s not really the case here.” And America’s suburbs are sprawling again.
Over the 20th century, real estate developers built large tracts of single-family homes outside of major cities. The builders were following mortgage underwriting standards first introduced by the Federal Housing Administration in the 1930s. Over the century, those guidelines created housing market conditions that explicitly shut out many minorities. Experts say it is possible to update these old building codes to create equity while fixing some, but not all of the problems of American suburbia.
In 2021, single family housing starts rose to 1.123 million, the highest since 2006, according to the National Association of Home Builders, however, options for prospective homebuyers remain lean. Experts say the problems of America’s housing market relate to past policy decisions. In particular, they say restrictive zoning codes are limiting housing supply.
Home prices in the U.S. have climbed at a record pace during the pandemic. The median home price reached over $363,000 in June 2021, a 23.4% increase from 2020. Many of the houses are being sold above their asking price, often entirely in cash with bidding wars becoming the new norm to weed out the competition. So is America currently in another housing bubble and what are the signs that can help investors predict an oncoming crash?