Cities Higher at Risk for Bubble

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Are we in a housing bubble? Whenever house prices increase faster than general inflation for a year or two, we hear that question more often. Can the market sustain the new higher price, or has something artificially or temporarily inflated these prices?

Nationally, over the past five years, the increase in house prices has outpaced inflation by 34 percent cumulatively since 2012 (figure 1). Though noteworthy, the increase is less than half the pace seen between 1997 and 2006, which saw house price growth outpace inflation by 87 percent.

Locally, there are areas of concern

Of course, real estate is local, so we should also ask if there are any regional housing bubbles. We examined the same two key factors to measure the likelihood that a metropolitan statistical area (MSA) is in a bubble, and we offer a method that ranks the largest MSAs against each other based on these factors.

We began with the 37 largest MSAs and looked at the real increase in house prices since their lowest point following the crisis (the trough) and our measure. We then sum the rankings and re-rank the MSAs most likely to be in a bubble, our “bubble watch” rank.

The top 10 MSAs are ranked high on both home price growth and lack of affordability measures. But further down the list, the rank could be driven by one measure or the other.