eli5 : What is a housing bubble and how is it created? Are we currently in one?

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If it bursts, will houses ever regain their current value?

In: Economics

A bubble os when an asset price goes through the roof because the price is based upon unrealistic market growth. So in this situation houses are more expensive because of a few things, shortage of homes on the market, pandemic concerns, private firms buying up entire neighborhoods and supply change issues. It is iffy to say if we are in a bubble but I personally believe we are.

There is no single accepted definition. But it is commonly used to describe situations where people are taking on too much debt to buy houses. This can happen due to dishonest loan brokers that falsify info to complete loans that are too expensive for people to pay off. Or low interest rates trigger people into buying larger or more expensive houses because they hear that low interest rate are making a boom market (a sort of self fulfilling prophecy)

Housing prices have their ups and downs, but do usually return to a medium average after an economic event such as the 2008 crash or covid shutdown.

only one factor but the last presidents handling of the pandemic caused a lot of people to pull their houses off the market rather than have some maskless spreadneck traipsing thru their house. Many invested in their homes rather than upgrade. We refinished the basement and put in a new HVAC. Its more likely we’ll stay here longer now.

I don’t think we’re in a bubble because high prices are being caused by real demand increases and supply shortages. And new construction to increase supply is moving slowly because of supply limitations and pricing in the lumber and steel markets.

Basically high prices are supported by actual valid market conditions.

Once supply for raw materials eases up and those prices drop I do think we’ll see new construction increase but that won’t dent the inventory situation for another year or two.

I think we’re at a stage where pricing has exceeded equilibrium so we will see some back off in prices so people will keep buying. We’ll see another back off when new inventory hits the market. Prices won’t crash for either of these events, they’ll just moderate a touch and then I think we’ll return to the relatively stagnant market prices that we saw pre-pandemic.

Every asset has a realistic / intrinsic value. So, for example, one can say that the intrinsic value of a house can be a summation of “cost of the land on which it is built + cost of building, furnishing and other expenses to make the house livable + a “reasonable” profit margin (corelated in some way to my finance cost) in case I wish to sell”. Now there are instances when some houses get sold for 2x, 3x times of their intrinsic value (within a couple of years). This does happen in reality – sporadically in some pockets of the market every once in a while. When this starts happening across all locations in the country / across all categories of houses ***and there are still buyers available who keep buying them at those abnormal prices*** – ***consistently*** – ***for few years*** – then it is fairly safe to say that a housing bubble has been created.

If you see the above example – or for that matter any transaction – there has to be a seller and a buyer. If the seller has an unrealistic expectation of sale price for his house and there are multiple buyers who are willing to pay for it (for whatever reason – they may have an urgent need or may have disposable income or may have insider information about the area and expect a price increase soon or are plain dumb and dont know the market or are motivated by FOMO etc.) – then housing bubble will get created. Repeated “inflated” transactions reset and increase the “expectation benchmark” of the area – thereby giving more air to the bubble.

The bubble keeps blowing up till “new money” keeps coming in and paying off the sellers (Its like a MLM scheme where the new entrants subsidize the older players). Soon after the “new money coming in” stops – the bubble bursts. The prices dip down to the other extreme where houses will be sold at prices “lower than their original intrinsic value”… and slowly new buyers start coming and prices creep upwards – slowly. And the cycle repeats again after a few years…

Whether we are in a housing bubble or not – can be judged by simply looking at your neighbourhood / county / state / country and see if this is a common phenomenon where housing prices have risen by “many tens of percent every year” over the last few years consistently (and who is buying those houses – are they landlords for renting or families for staying). Based on the observations (and few more indicators) you may be able to guage whether we are in a housing bubble or not.

A bubble is when the reason you’re willing to pay more for something than it’s worth is because you’re sure someone ELSE will buy it from you for even more still.

A bubble is when buyers pay the price not because of some fundamentals suggesting it’s a fair price, but because they believe they’ll be able to sell later for in short order (fundamentals be damned).

What were in now isn’t a bubble, but a supply/demand imbalance. There are more buyers than usual as more people looked to upgrade when COVID meant need for more space, desire for yards and such. At the same time, the people typically selling larger homes and downsizing chose to stay put and not sell — boomers were afraid of strangers touring their homes, couldn’t travel to retirement areas to house hunt, held off on going into nursing/retirement homes due to outbreaks, kept larger homes as adult kids fled apartments alone to live back home. So 2x the demand, 1/2 the supply means prices rose.

But it wasn’t a bubble. As we come out of pandemic, priorities will shift and demand and supply will even out. Prices will level out or might slip a bit but it won’t be a giant drop like we saw in 2008. For one, people can still borrow. Part of the giant drop in ‘08 was difficulty in getting mortgages, limiting demand.