Sales volume and home prices tend to correlate, albeit on a delay of about a year. It’s usually helpful to look at changes in one to predict changes in the other. But sometimes that’s not the case — most notably, at the start of an economic recovery. Looking only to sales volume to forecast a recovery can result in some false starts.
This happened in 2008, and may be about to happen now. Home sales volume shot up between 2008 and 2009, but crashed back down the next year. This is because economic stimulus resulted in temporary buyer demand, which fell off as soon as the stimulus was used up. Now, in 2020, despite actual buyer demand, sales volume is low as a result of low inventory. Low inventory doesn’t decrease home prices, though, so they’re still going up. Pent-up demand means that as soon as the economy recovers, inventory may be snatched up quickly, resulting in another sudden burst of activity that will rapidly fall off.
So what does need to happen for an economic recovery? The answer is jobs. While sales volume may predict short-term direction of change, the job market is an excellent reflection of the housing market stability, since both homeowners and renters require income in order to make payments. Job numbers aren’t going to be stable for a while either. A full recovery of the job market isn’t expected until 2022 at the earliest, at which point we can start to see the regular patterns emerge again in home sales volume and home prices.
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We’re all well aware that California has been facing a shortage of affordable housing. Affordable housing is also an important step in recovering from the current recession. So, why hasn’t it happened yet? There are a couple of reasons.
It’s true that not enough homes are being built, but it’s more complicated than that. Not enough affordable housing is being built — because it’s actually more expensive to build than high-tier homes. Whenever housing is developed, it’s subject to a development fee, the rules for which are set at the city level, so they’re hard to standardize. The development fee can range from 6-18%, reaching upwards of $150,000 in some cities. The big issue is that this fee is charged per unit, which means that affordable housing developments, which invariably consist of multiple, smaller units, are subject to multiple development fees. This makes it difficult for developers to turn a profit from affordable housing projects.
The other reason is also the same reason it’s so important to our recovery — the job loss from COVID-19 and the recession itself. These factors have reduced purchasing power, increased homelessness, and increased the demand for lower-tier housing. Construction companies can’t keep with the ever-increasing demand for their most expensive, lowest return-on-investment projects.
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It’s no secret that California has exorbitantly high home and rental prices as well as increasing homelessness. What may be less obvious is that the issue lies in housing construction. There simply aren’t enough affordable units being built.
That’s why California’s Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) has established ambitious housing goals for the next decade. In order to be eligible for DHCD funding, a county such as Alameda County would need to plan to build 441,000 more housing units between 2022 and 2030. If that sounds unachievable already, take note that Alameda County is still behind by 188,000 units on its 2022 goal. As far as affordability, Alameda County has similar goals as other large metros for income distribution: about 45% to above-moderate income households, about 15% to moderate- and low-income respectively, and about 25% to very-low-income households. Local jurisdictions are also going to need to adjust their zoning laws to accommodate the new goals.
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