Are Home Prices Cheap?

Analysts at Deutsche Bank attempt to answer the question “Rent of Buy?” in a new research piece out today.  While falling home prices and declining interest rates have narrowed the rent-buy gap, home affordability is not high by historical standards.

According to Deutsche Bank, the rent-buy gap has narrowed by 5.2% in Q4 2009 to 88.5% the second highest level since Q1 2003.

national rent-buy gap (rent as % of after-tax mortgage payments, ATMP)

 

source: Deutsche Bank “Rent or Buy?”

While home affordability has improved, rents remain more affodable compared to income.  The cost to rent in Q3 2009 was 9.4% of household income, while the cost to own is 11.3% of household income. Notice the graph below, ATMP as % of household income has fallen signficantly from its peak in Q2 2006 of 17.2% but not below historical trend levels.

source: Deutsche Bank “Rent or Buy?”

 

However, other affordability metrics have shown housing affordability at alltime hights. For example, the most commonly cited metric – the National Association fo Realtors (NAR) index has set highs since December 2009.  However, the Deutsche Bank analysts question this as an appropriate measure. NAR looks at housing costs in isolation.  This grossly underrepresents the dwelling options of any individual.  As we all know, renting is a viable option, so any index that does not take into account the cost of renting a home vs. owning a home is fundamentally flawed.

source: Deutsche Bank “Rent or Buy?”

Using a Price-to-rent ratio, akin to a price-earning ratio, Deutsche Bank analysts argue that home prices could decline another 11%.  During the early 1990s, the average price-to-rent ration was 16.2.  During the mid 2000’s the ratio reached a peak of 24.7 in Q2 2007 and has since fallend to 18.2 in Q4 2009.  However this 18.2 reading is still elevated compated to that of the 1990s. 

During  the  1990’s  a  booming economy did little to push price-rent ratios out of equilibrium as both home prices and rents
moved in the same general direction. In our view, rents are likely to decline, thus prices may
need to fall even further than the 11% that the price-to-rent ratio implies.

source: Deutsche Bank “Rent or Buy?”

source: Deutsche Bank “Rent or Buy?”

With mortgage rates starting to creap up as the FED is signaling the end of mortgage buying, it doesn’t seem like a stretch to think that as rates go up, home prices will fall in order to keep some sort of equilibrium in affordability. 

With the tax credits expiring towards the middle half of this year, continued increase in forclosures, headwinds still persist for the housing market.  Now might be a good time to start building shorts in IYR in the face of exhubirant optimism with the recent Case-Shiller index.

source: www.etfdesk.com

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