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February 8, 2016

California Housing Apocalypse

The rise in rents and home prices is adding additional pressure to the bottom line of most California families.  Home prices have been rising steadily for a few years largely driven by low inventory, little construction thanks to NIMBYism, and foreign money flowing into certain markets.  But even areas that don’t have foreign demand are seeing prices jump all the while household incomes are stagnant.  Yet that growth has hit a wall in 2016, largely because of financial turmoil.  We’ve seen a big jump in the financial markets from 2009.  Those big investor bets on real estate are paying off as rents continue to move up.  For a place like California where net homeownership has fallen in the last decade, a growing list of new renter households is a good thing so long as you own a rental
The problem of course is that household incomes are not moving up and more money is being siphoned off into an unproductive asset class, a house.  Let us look at the changing dynamics in California households.
More renters
Many people would like to buy but simply cannot because their wages do not justify current prices for glorious crap shacks.  In San Francisco even high paid tech workers can’t afford to pay $1.2 million for your typical Barbie house in a rundown neighborhood.  So with little inventory investors and foreign money shift the price momentum.  With the stock market moving up nonstop from 2009 there was plenty of wealth injected back into real estate.  The last few months are showing cracks in that foundation.
It is still easy to get a mortgage if you have the income to back it up.  You now see the resurrection of no money down mortgages.  In the end however the number of renter households is up in a big way in California and homeownership is down:

Source:  Census
So what we see is that since 2007 we’ve added more than 680,000 renter households but have lost 161,000 owner occupied households.  At the same time the population is increasing.  When it comes to raw numbers, people are opting to rent for whatever reason.  Also, just because the population increases doesn’t mean people are adding new renter households.  You have 2.3 million grown adults living at home with mom and dad enjoying Taco Tuesdays in their old room filled with Nirvana and Dr. Dre posters.
And yes, with little construction and unable to buy, many are renting and rents have jumped up in a big way in 2015:

Source:  Apartmentlist.com
This has slowed down dramatically in 2016.  It is hard to envision this pace going on if a reversal in the economy hits (which it always does as the business cycle does its usual thing).
Homeownership rate in a steep decline
In the LA/OC area home prices are up 37 percent in the last three years:
california home prices
Of course there are no accompanying income gains.  If you look at the stock market, the unemployment rate, and real estate values you would expect the public to be happy this 2016 election year.  To the contrary, outlier momentum is massive because people realize the system is rigged and are trying to fight back.  Watch the Big Short for a trip down memory lane and you’ll realize nothing has really changed since then.  The house humping pundits think they found some new secret here.  It is timing like buying Apple or Amazon stock at the right time.  What I’ve seen is that many that bought no longer can afford their property in a matter of 3 years!  Some shop at the dollar store while the new buyers are either foreign money or dual income DINKs (which will take a big hit to their income once those kids start popping out).  $2,000 a month per kid daycare in the Bay Area is common.
If this was such a simple decision then the homeownership rate would be soaring.  Yet the homeownership rate is doing this:
HomeownershipRate-Annual
In the end a $700,000 crap shack is still a crap shack.  That $1.2 million piece of junk in San Francisco is still junk.  And you better make sure you can carry that housing nut for 30 years.  For tech workers, mobility is key so renting serves more as an option on housing versus renting the place from the bank for 30 years.  Make no mistake, in most of the US buying a home makes total sense.  In California, the massive drop in the homeownership rate shows a different story.  And that story is the middle class is disappearing.  

The Dolce Whey at Onnit.com!

The views and opinions expressed herein are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect those of EconMatters.

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