In the US and worldwide there has been a noticeable decline in the value of homes. Some argue that home prices were artificially inflated due to a "bubble." Others believe in efficient markets and that the decline in home values is a rational response to a change in economic circumstances and expectations.
Houses are a multi-generational asset in that they are a consumer durable that can been passed on from one generation to another. In a rational expectations, efficient market world which is the world economic research finds we live in, house price changes are due to changes in the expectations of the economic fundamentals related to the need, demand and value of houses. Thus, current house prices reflect their true economic value and homes are not undervalued whether due to the unavailability of credit or for other reasons. Arms-length housing market transactions, of which there are still many, occur at the true current price of housing.
Much recent academic work supports the idea that a sharp price rise and decline in "bubbles" is actually a rational economic response and markets are efficient even in so called "bubbles". For example, see the Wikipedia article on tulip mania and a 2004 article in Slate, Bulb Bubble Trouble.
So, instead of trying to use government money to artificially shore up house prices, a more rational response to the decline in the value of homes, is to ask what is the price change in the housing market telling us about the future value of housing and to see if that is something that is undesirable. If the expected outcome is not what we would like to see happen and is changeable, then we should do the things to change that outcome in our economy.
Some of the possible future scenarios which would decrease the current value of a home are:
- a significant and long-term decline in household formation.
- a significant and long-term decline in population growth in the US due to changes in birthrate or immigration policies.
- an increase in adult children living in their parents home (including after marriage or cohabitation).
- an expectation of an increase in mortality or a shortening of life expectancy due to war, disease or natural or man made disasters.
- a change in our preferences so as to prefer multi-family or apartment type dwellings as opposed to single family homes decreasing the need for single family homes.
- a significant increase in the costs of owning and maintaining a home which lowers its economic value to a purchaser because of the expected increase cash outflow during ownership.
- a decline in both household income or the expected growth rate of household income.
- an alternative technology for building homes which will dramatically reduce the costs of building new houses.
- a change in home related taxation such as a denial of mortgage interest or real estate taxes deductions.
- a substantial expected increase in real estate taxes.
- other possibilities that affect the economic value of a home that I have not mentioned.
The point of this post is that to most economists who believe in economic value, efficient markets and rational expectations, the current decline in home prices is a rational response to a change in expectations about the value of homes. If there were not this belief that current homes are fairly valued, then buyers would be buying up and warehousing the depressed priced homes, the foreclosed homes and abandoned homes. The fact that buyers are not rushing in shows that the current prices of homes are fair and homes are not undervalued.