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articles about “Affordability

Housing’s Millennial Mismatch

Asking prices are rising faster in Gen X, boomer, and senior markets than in millennial markets. But there’s a mismatch in where young adults live versus where they can afford to buy a home. For many millennials, homeownership will require moving to a cheaper market.

Jed Kolko, Chief Economist
December 9, 2014

The Trulia Price Monitor and the Trulia Rent Monitor are the earliest leading indicators of housing price and rent trends nationally and locally. They adjust for the changing mix of listed homes and show what’s really happening to asking prices and rents. Asking prices lead sales prices by approximately two or more months. As a result, the Monitors reveal trends before other price indexes do. With that, here’s the scoop on where prices and rents are headed.

Asking Prices Accelerated in November, Rising 7.4% Year-over-Year

Nationwide, asking prices on for-sale homes jumped 1.5% month-over-month in November, seasonally adjusted — a surprisingly large increase. Future months will tell whether this was a blip or the beginning of a sustained climb. Year-over-year, asking prices rose 7.4%, down from the 10.3% year-over-year increase in November 2013. Asking prices rose year-over-year in 98 of the 100 largest U.S. metros — everywhere but Little Rock and New Haven.

November 2014 Trulia Price Monitor Summary
% change in asking prices # of 100 largest metros with asking-price increases % change in asking prices, excluding foreclosures
seasonally adjusted
1.5% N/A 1.6%
seasonally adjusted
3.4% 95 3.5%
Year-over-year 7.4% 98 7.3%
Data from previous months are revised each month, so current data reported for previous months might differ from previously reported data.

Prices Rising Fast in Florida, Slowest in Favorite Millennial Markets

Four of the 10 metros where asking prices rose most year-over-year were in Florida. These Sunshine State markets have older populations, and they all have a lower share of millennials than the national average of 21% and a higher share of baby boomers than the average of 24%. In fact, only one of the 10 markets with the largest price increases in November has a higher share of millennials than the national average—and only slightly (Las Vegas, at 22%).

Where Prices Increased Most in November
# U.S. Metro Y-o-Y % asking price change, Nov 2014 % of population age 20-34 (Millennials) % of population age 50-69 (Boomers)
1 Ventura County, CA 17.2% 20% 24%
2 Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, FL 15.2% 16% 30%
3 North Port-Bradenton-Sarasota, FL 14.7% 14% 30%
4 Oakland, CA 13.4% 21% 24%
5 Cincinnati, OH-KY-IN 13.4% 20% 25%
6 Cape Coral-Fort Myers, FL 13.3% 16% 29%
7 Lakeland-Winter Haven, FL 13.0% 18% 25%
8 Las Vegas, NV 12.9% 22% 23%
9 Detroit, MI 12.9% 20% 25%
10 Atlanta, GA 12.9% 21% 22%
- National average 7.4% 21% 24%
Note: among 100 largest metros. Population shares based on 2013 Census population estimates. To download the list of asking home price changes for the largest metros: Excel or PDF

metro map nov 2014

To see how the age distribution of a metro’s population relates to home prices, we identified the 10 markets with the highest shares of each of four distinct generations: millennials (age 20–34); Gen X (age 35–49); boomers (age 50–69); and seniors (age 70 and up). (See note.) In the 10 markets where millennials account for the largest share of the population, including Austin, San Diego, and Virginia Beach-Norfolk, the average year-over-year price increase was 6.1% — below the 7.4% national increase. Markets with the highest shares of Gen Xers, including Raleigh, San Francisco, and San Jose, averaged price increases of 9.4% — highest among the four age groups. Prices in the favorite markets of seniors, most of which are in Florida, rose 8.6% — also above the national increase.


The Millennial Mismatch in Housing Affordability

When young adult renters are asked if they will buy a home someday, a whopping 93% say yes. You’d think it would be good news for them that prices are rising more slowly in the markets where they currently live. Not so fast though. Prices might be rising more slowly in millennials’ favorite metros. But affordability is nonetheless a big challenge in those markets.

To see this, compare the millennial population share in each metro with the percentage of homes for sale that a typical millennial household can afford (from our most recent Middle Class Affordability report — see note below on how we define affordability). In metros with higher millennial shares, homeownership tends to be less affordable for this group. For instance, in Austin, Honolulu, New York, and San Diego, 20–34 year-olds account for at least 23.5% of the population, putting those metros in the top 10 for millennial share. But fewer than 30% of homes for sale in those markets are within reach of the typical millennial household. Some markets with a high millennial share are more affordable, including Oklahoma City and Baton Rouge, but they’re the exception (see note).


Call it the “millennial mismatch.” Millennials can afford markets where they don’t live, but they can’t afford many of the markets where they do live. Many millennials who hope to buy someday will be priced out of the market where they live now. They’ll face a tough choice: Do they keep renting or move to a cheaper market?

Rents Gains Easing Slightly in Most Large Markets

Rents continued to climb. Nationwide, rents rose 6.1% year-over-year in November. Still, rent gains have cooled since August in 14 of the 25 largest rental markets, including the Northern California markets of San Francisco, Oakland, and Sacramento. In November, Denver had the steepest increases in the country, though the typical two-bedroom unit there still rents for less than half of what it would cost in San Francisco or New York. But rent increases could slow next year if new apartment construction finally catches up with demand.

Rent Trends in the 25 Largest Rental Markets
# U.S. Metro Y-o-Y % change in rents, Nov 2014 Y-o-Y % change in rents, Aug 2014 Median rent for 2-bedroom, Nov 2014
1 Denver, CO 14.2% 12.7% 1550
2 San Francisco, CA 12.2% 13.4% 3600
3 Oakland, CA 11.9% 14.3% 2450
4 Baltimore, MD 9.3% 8.1% 1550
5 Phoenix, AZ 8.5% 8.1% 1050
6 New York, NY-NJ 8.3% 5.4% 3400
7 Sacramento, CA 8.2% 13.4% 1200
8 Portland, OR-WA 7.8% 3.5% 1300
9 Philadelphia, PA 7.5% 9.2% 1550
10 Tampa-St. Petersburg, FL 7.4% 5.5% 1150
11 Miami, FL 7.3% 9.0% 2300
12 Los Angeles, CA 7.3% 8.2% 2500
13 Seattle, WA 7.3% 8.5% 1750
14 Orange County, CA 7.3% 4.7% 2100
15 St. Louis, MO-IL 7.3% 6.3% 950
16 Las Vegas, NV 6.5% 5.4% 950
17 Chicago, IL 5.9% 7.2% 1700
18 Riverside-San Bernardino, CA 5.8% 6.1% 1550
19 Dallas, TX 5.7% 4.5% 1400
20 Atlanta, GA 5.6% 7.5% 1200
21 Houston, TX 4.2% 4.2% 1400
22 San Diego, CA 4.0% 6.5% 2000
23 Boston, MA 3.8% 4.5% 2300
24 Washington, DC-VA-MD-WV 3.4% 3.6% 2000
25 Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN-WI 1.8% 1.7% 1300
Note: among 100 largest metros. Population shares based on 2013 Census population estimates. To download the list of rent price changes for the largest metros: Excel or PDF

Note: Data on share of metro population in each age group are from the Census’s 2013 county population estimates. Because the Census reports county population estimates by age in 5-year buckets (20–24, 25–29, etc.), we defined the four age groups as 20–34 (millennials), 35–49 (Gen X), 50–69 (boomers), and 70+ (seniors).

The correlation for the data shown in the scatterplot between millennial share and homeownership affordability for millennials is -0.28 (-0.48 when weighted by metro number of households), which is statistically significant at the 5% level.

We measure affordability as the share of homes for sale on Trulia within reach of the typical millennial household. Our standard is whether the total monthly payment, including mortgage, insurance, and property taxes, is less than 31% of the metro area’s median income for households headed by millennials. The total monthly cost includes the mortgage payment assuming a 4.2% 30-year fixed rate mortgage with 20% down, property taxes based on average metro property tax rate, and insurance. We chose 31% of income as the affordability cutoff to be consistent with government guidelines for affordability.

The Trulia Price Monitor and the Trulia Rent Monitor track asking home prices and rents on a monthly basis, adjusting for the changing composition of listed homes, including foreclosures provided by RealtyTrac. The Trulia Price Monitor also accounts for regular seasonal fluctuations in asking prices in order to reveal underlying price trends. The Monitors can detect price movements at least three months before the major sales-price indexes. Historical data are revised monthly. Thus, historical data presented in the current release are the best comparison with current data. Our FAQs provide the technical details.


Housing in 2015: Consumers Upbeat, but Recovery Faces a Tricky Handoff

Consumers think 2015 will be a better year than 2014, especially for selling a home. But the recovery will slow as the rebound effect fades before fundamentals become strong. Key markets to watch are in the Northeast, South, and West.

Jed Kolko, Chief Economist
December 3, 2014

What does 2015 have in store for the housing market? Nine years after the housing bubble peaked and three years after home prices bottomed, the boom and bust still cast a long shadow. None of the five measures we track in our Housing Barometer is back to normal yet, though three are getting close. The rebound effect drove the recovery after the bust, but is now fading. Prices are no longer significantly undervalued and investor demand is falling. Ideally, strong economic and demographic fundamentals like job growth and household formation would take up the slack. But the virtuous cycle of gains in jobs and housing is relatively weak, and that will slow the recovery in 2015. All the same, consumers are optimistic, according to our survey of 2,008 American adults conducted November 6-10, 2014.

Consumers Expect 2015 To Be Better, Especially for Selling a Home

Consumers are as optimistic about the housing market as at any point since the recovery started. Nearly three-quarters — 74% — of respondents agreed that home ownership was part of achieving their personal American Dream – the same level as in our 2013 Q4 survey and slightly above the levels of the three previous years. For young adults, the dream has revived: 78% of 18-34 year-olds answered yes to our American Dream question, up from 73% in 2013 Q4 and a low of 65% in 2011 Q3.


Furthermore, 93% of young renters plan to buy a home someday. That’s unchanged from 2012 Q4 despite rising home prices and worsening affordability.

Which real estate activities do consumers think will improve in 2015? All of them – but especially selling. Fully 36% said 2015 will be much or a little better than 2014 for selling a home. Just 16% said 2015 will be much or a little worse, a difference of 20 percentage points. The rest of the respondents said 2015 would be neither better nor worse, or weren’t sure. More consumers said 2015 will be better than 2014 for buying too. But the margin over those who said 2015 will be worse was not as wide.


Despite this optimism, barriers remain to homeownership. Saving for a down payment is still the highest hurdle, as it was last year, followed by poor credit and qualifying for a mortgage. Not having a stable job has become considerably less of an obstacle, dropping to 24% this year compared with 36% last year thanks to the recovering job market. But affordability has become a bigger obstacle. Some 32% of respondents cited rising home prices, compared with 22% last year.


Housing Recovery in 2015: Rebound Effect to Fade Before Fundamentals Can Take Over

Different engines power each stage of the housing recovery. During the early years – roughly 2012 to 2014 – the rebound effect drove the recovery. Investors and other buyers scooped up undervalued homes and took advantage of foreclosures and short sales, boosting overall sales volumes. Local markets hit hardest in the housing bust posted the largest price rebounds. Now, though, the rebound effect is fading. Price levels and price changes are both approaching normal, foreclosure inventories are dwindling, and investors are pulling back. This is inevitable as the market improves and therefore shifts to slower, more sustainable price increases and a healthier mix of home sales.

So what replaces the rebound effect in the next stage of the housing recovery? The market increasingly depends on fundamentals such as job growth, rising incomes, and more household formation. But here’s the hitch: These fundamental drivers of supply and demand haven’t returned to full strength. They aren’t able to fully take the reins from the rebound effect. Importantly, the share of young adults with jobs is still less than halfway back to normal, many young adults are still living with their parents, and income growth is sluggish. This points to a tricky handoff, and means housing activity in 2015 might disappoint by some measures, though the rental market will remain vigorous.

Here’s what we expect:

  • Price gains slow, but affordability worsens. Price gains slowed in 2014 and we’ll see more of the same in 2015. In October 2014, prices increased4% year-over-year, down from 10.6% in October 2013. The slowdown has been especially sharp in metros that had a severe housing bust followed by a big rebound. Now, prices nationwide are just 3% undervalued relative to fundamentals. That leaves fewer bargains and scant room for prices to rise without becoming overvalued. What’s more, with consumers expecting 2015 to be a better year to sell than 2014, more homes should come onto the market, cooling prices further. Nevertheless, despite slowing price gains, home-buying affordability will worsen in 2015 for two reasons. First, even these smaller price increases will almost surely outpace income growth. In 2013, incomes rose just 1.8% year-over-year in nominal terms, and a negligible 0.3% after adjusting for inflation. Second, the strengthening economy and the Fed’s response should push up mortgage rates.
  • The rental market will keep burning bright. Next year will see strong rental demand and lots of new supply. The demand will come from young people leaving homes belonging to parents or roommates and renting their own places. Until now, they’ve been slow to leave the nest. But the 2014 job gains for 25-34 year-olds should lead to the rise in household formation we’ve been waiting years for. At the same time, the 2014 apartment construction boom will mean more supply in 2015 since multi-unit buildings take about a year to build. Will rent gains slow? Probably – provided that this new supply keeps up with formation of renter households. This surge of renters will probably cause the homeownership rate to fall. To be sure, the ranks of homeowners will probably rise. But an even larger number of young adults will enter the housing market as renters.
  • Single-family starts and new home sales could disappoint. While apartment construction is breaking records, single-family housing starts and new home sales are still not much better than half of normal levels. They’ll improve in 2015, but not as much as we’d like. Our consumer survey suggests more people will try to sell existing homes. That would add to the supply on the market and possibly reduce demand for new homes. Also, the strongest source of housing demand will be young people getting jobs and forming households. But they’ll be moving into rentals and saving for a down payment rather than buying homes right away. Finally, the vacancy rate for single-family homes is still near its recession high, which discourages new construction. The apartment construction boom shows that where there’s demand, builders will build. But buyer demand for single-family homes simply hasn’t recovered enough to support near-normal levels of single-family starts or new home sales.

If these predictions for 2015 sound similar to our predictions for 2014, you’re right. As the rebound effect fades and fundamentals take over, the recovery gets slower and the market starts to look more similar from one year to the next. But there’s good news here. Even though the recovery remains unfinished, the housing market is becoming more stable and more certain for buyers, sellers, and renters.

Markets to Watch in 2015

As the rebound effect fades, our 10 markets to watch have strong fundamentals for housing activity. These include solid job growth, which fuels housing demand, and a low vacancy rate, which spurs construction. We gave a few extra points to markets with a higher share of millennials. These young adults are getting back to work and that will drive household formation and rental demand. We didn’t include markets where prices looked at least 5% overvalued in our latest Bubble Watch report. Here are our markets to watch, in alphabetical order:

  1. Boston, MA
  2. Dallas, TX
  3. Fresno, CA
  4. Middlesex County, MA
  5. Nashville, TN
  6. New York, NY-NJ
  7. Raleigh, NC
  8. Salt Lake City, UT
  9. San Diego, CA
  10. Seattle, WA



These markets are spread across the country: Boston, Middlesex County (just west of Boston), and New York in the Northeast; Dallas, Nashville, and Raleigh in the South (the Census considers Texas part of the South); and Fresno, Salt Lake City, San Diego, and Seattle in the West. No Midwestern metros make the list because they generally have slower job growth and higher vacancy rates than other markets, even though many are quite affordable and prices are rebounding.

In 2015, more markets will settle back into their long-term housing patterns. Fast-growing markets that boomed last decade, collapsed in the bust, and then rebounded are now leveling off. Even the markets that have been slowest to recover and have struggled longest are seeing foreclosure inventories decline and the sales mix moving back toward normal.

At the same time, first-time homeownership, single-family starts, and new home sales won’t come close to fully recovering in 2015. But if 2015 brings strong job growth, big income gains, and the long-awaited jump in household formation, then 2016 could be the year when we see a major turnaround in homeownership and single-family construction.


Where Is Homeownership Within Reach of the Middle Class and Millennials?

Despite high household incomes, San Francisco is the least affordable metro, with just 15% of homes within reach of the middle class. Affordability has deteriorated over the past year in Austin and Miami. The most affordable markets are near the Great Lakes.

Jed Kolko, Chief Economist
November 18, 2014

Where can the middle class bear the cost of buying a home? In the past year, affordability has fallen modestly, hurt by rising home prices, but helped by lower mortgage rates. Nationally, 59% of homes for sale are within reach of the middle class, compared with 62% last October. Nonetheless, the big picture is that prices still look undervalued compared with fundamentals and historically low mortgage rates make buying much cheaper than renting. Still, affordability is a growing problem.

We measure affordability as the share of homes for sale on Trulia within reach of a middle-class household. Our standard is whether the total monthly payment, including mortgage, insurance, and property taxes, is less than 31% of the metro area’s median household income. (See note below.) We define middle class separately for each metro based on the local median household income. Thus, what we consider affordable varies from market to market.

For instance, in metro Atlanta, median household income is $55,000. Homes priced under $276,000 are affordable based on the 31% guideline. On November 7, 2014, 71% of the homes for sale in Atlanta were listed for less than $276,000. That means that more than two-thirds of metro Atlanta homes are within reach of the middle class.

Austin and Miami Join California Markets on the Least Affordable List

The five most affordable markets are in Ohio, Indiana, and upstate New York. In those markets, more than 80% of homes for sale are within reach of the middle class. The South is relatively affordable too, with Birmingham, AL and Columbia, SC among the 10 most affordable markets.

Most Affordable Housing Markets for the Middle Class

# U.S. Metro % of for-sale homes affordable for middle class, Nov 2014 Median size of affordable for-sale homes, Nov 2014 (square feet) % of for-sale homes affordable for middle class, Oct 2013
1 Dayton, OH 85% 1400 85%
2 Rochester, NY 83% 1400 76%
3 Akron, OH 83% 1350 86%
4 Gary, IN 81% 1500 84%
5 Toledo, OH 81% 1350 85%
6 Birmingham, AL 80% 1400 82%
7 Kansas City, MO-KS 79% 1400 80%
8 Camden, NJ 79% 1450 79%
9 Columbia, SC 79% 1700 83%
10 Detroit, MI 79% 1050 83%
Find out how affordable each of the 100 largest metros are for the Middle Class: Excel and PDF

Six of the seven least affordable markets are in California. A middle-class household can afford just 15% of homes for sale in San Francisco and 22% in Los Angeles. In New York, only 25% of homes for sale are within reach. Joining the least affordable list for the first time are Austin and Miami. In Austin, just 40% of homes for sale are within reach of the middle class, down from 50% last fall. Miami has seen a similar drop in affordability. In total, in 20 of the 100 largest metros, middle-class households can afford fewer than 50% of homes.

Least Affordable Housing Markets for the Middle Class

# U.S. Metro % of for-sale homes affordable for middle class, Nov 2014 Median size of affordable for-sale homes, Nov 2014 (square feet) % of for-sale homes affordable for middle class, Oct 2013
1 San Francisco, CA 15% 1050 14%
2 Los Angeles, CA 22% 1250 24%
3 San Diego, CA 25% 1100 28%
4 New York, NY-NJ 25% 1050 25%
5 Orange County, CA 26% 1100 23%
6 San Jose, CA 30% 1200 31%
7 Ventura County, CA 33% 1250 32%
8 Honolulu, HI 38% 700 40%
9 Austin, TX 40% 1800 50%
10 Miami, FL 41% 1150 51%
Find out how affordable each of the 100 largest metros are for the Middle Class: Excel and PDF

metro map


Surprisingly, high-income metros are generally less, not more, affordable. Housing prices tend to be so high in metros with high incomes that affordability ends up being worse than in low-income metros. Why? High-income households bid up home prices, and high prices push out lower-income households. In addition, higher-income metros tend to have less new construction than lower-income metros do. As a result, high-income metros such as San Francisco and San Jose are among the least affordable, even after taking income into account.

Bucking the trend are Washington, DC and the Bethesda metro next door, where incomes are high and more than 60% of homes are within reach of the middle class.


The Least Affordable Parts of the Least Affordable Metros

Of course, affordability varies within metros. To dig deeper in the least affordable metros, we zoom down one level to look at sub-markets – individual counties or, for enormous counties like Los Angeles, the territories covered by telephone area codes. For example, although metro San Francisco is less affordable than metro New York, the borough of Manhattan is less affordable than the city of San Francisco (see note). In fact, Brooklyn and the San Gabriel Valley (east of downtown Los Angeles) are as unaffordable as the city of San Francisco.

So the next time someone says “Oakland is the new Brooklyn,” remind them that housing costs in Brooklyn actually rival those of San Francisco, not Oakland. In Alameda County, which includes Oakland, 32% of homes are within reach of the middle class – similar to Queens (33%), not Brooklyn (12%).

   Least Affordable Housing Sub-Markets for the Middle Class
# U.S. Sub-Market U.S. Metro % of for-sale homes affordable for middle class, Nov 2014
1 Manhattan NYC 2%
2 Pasadena / San Gabriel Valley (626) LA 11%
3 Brooklyn NYC 12%
4 San Francisco (city= county) SF 12%
5 Westside LA/ Beaches/ Coast (310/424) LA 14%
6 Marin SF 15%
7 Downtown LA (213) LA 16%
8 Napa SF 16%
9 San Fernando Valley (818/747) LA 16%
10 San Mateo SF 17%
Note: sub-markets are counties in most metros, including boroughs in New York, but are area code territories in metros where counties are unusually large.

Just Under Half of Homes are Within Reach of Millennials

For younger adults, affordability is yet a bigger challenge. Households headed by millennials – people younger than 35 – are at the age when people begin to think about buying a home. But their incomes are lower than those of older households. To explore affordability for this group, we use metro median income for millennial-headed households.

Nationwide, just 49% of for-sale homes are within reach of the median-income millennial household, compared with 59% for the median household regardless of age. In 45 of the 100 largest metros, the majority of homes for sale are beyond the reach of the typical millennial household. Those metros include not only expensive coastal markets such as Los Angeles and Honolulu, but also such places as Newark, Tucson, and Tacoma, WA. Austin and Oakland are among the 10 least affordable housing markets for millennials.

One surprise in this analysis: In two of the 100 largest metros – San Francisco and New York — the median income for millennial households is actually higher than median income for all households. Those markets have industries that often pay younger people well. But they also are such expensive markets that even well-paid young people must double up to be able to live there. Many find themselves priced out entirely. Even with those high-income millennials, San Francisco and New York are respectively the least and tenth-least affordable markets for millennials.

Least Affordable Housing Markets for Typical Millennial Household

# U.S. Metro % of for-sale homes affordable for median millennial household, Nov 2014 Median income, millennial households Median income, all households
1 San Francisco, CA 16% 90000 86000
2 Orange County, CA 17% 60000 76000
3 Los Angeles, CA 17% 48000 54000
4 San Diego, CA 18% 52000 61000
5 Ventura County, CA 20% 63000 78000
6 Austin, TX 22% 47000 62000
7 Honolulu, HI 25% 56000 73000
8 San Jose, CA 27% 87000 91000
9 Oakland, CA 27% 61000 76000
10 New York, NY-NJ 28% 60000 57000
Find out how affordable each of the 100 largest metros are for the Middle Class: Excel and PDF

For both millennials and the middle class generally, affordability is worsening. Annual home-price gains have slowed to 6.4% and will probably continue to ease. But that’s still a faster pace than gains in median income, which is rising at roughly the rate of inflation (1.5% in 2013). Plus, mortgage rates are likely to rise from their current low levels. Unless incomes increase substantially, homeownership will slip further beyond the reach of many households.


Note: We measure affordability as the share of homes for sale on Trulia on November 7, 2014, within reach of a middle-class household. Our standard is whether the total monthly payment, including mortgage, insurance, and property taxes, is less than 31% of the metro area’s median household income. We define middle class separately for each metro based on the local median household income. The total monthly cost includes the mortgage payment assuming a 4.2% 30-year fixed rate mortgage (versus 4.5% in the October 2013 calculation) with 20% down, property taxes based on average metro property tax rate, and insurance. We chose 31% of income as the affordability cutoff to be consistent with government guidelines for affordability. Both the Federal Housing Administration and the Home Affordable Modification Program use 31% of pre-tax income going toward monthly housing payments for assessing whether a home is within reach for a borrower.

Median household income is calculated from the 2013 American Community Survey (ACS) Public Use Microdata Sample (PUMS) using the 2009 metropolitan area definitions. Metro areas and divisions comprise one or more counties. In our sub-market analysis, we used counties or, in metros with very large counties like Los Angeles, the geographic footprints of telephone area codes.

Millennial households are those where the “reference person” (the head of household) is less than 35 years old.

Household incomes are rounded to the nearest $1000. Square footage is rounded to the nearest 50.


Blue Markets Face Bigger Housing Challenges Than Red Markets

Jed Kolko, Chief Economist
October 27, 2014

The housing crisis hurt Democratic- and Republican-leaning markets similarly, but today blue markets have lower affordability, lower homeownership, and greater income inequality.

As Election Day 2014 approaches, we see sharp differences in local housing markets depending on whether they are blue or red. As the political urgency of the housing crisis fades, longer-term issues like declining affordability, low homeownership, and rising inequality are taking center stage. And these issues play out differently in Democratic- and Republican-leaning metros.

To show this, Trulia categorized the 100 largest metros as red or blue depending on their 2012 presidential vote. In 32 metros—the red markets—the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, got more votes than the Democrat, President Obama. These include places like HoustonCincinnati, and Salt Lake City. In 40 light-blue markets, including St. LouisAustin, and Buffalo, Obama beat Romney by less than 20 percentage points. And in 28 dark-blue markets, including Los AngelesNew York, and San Francisco, Obama’s margin exceeded 20 points.

When we looked at housing trends in these metros, we found that the housing crisis and recovery affected red and blue markets similarly. But today’s pressing housing issues are more severe in blue markets.

The Housing Crisis Hit Both Red and Blue America

When the housing bubble of the mid-2000s burst, both red and blue markets felt the pain. The markets with the most severe housing busts included dark-blue metros like Detroit and Oakland as well as red markets like Bakersfield and Cape Coral – Fort Myers, FL. The peak-to-trough price decline averaged 16% in red markets, 26% in light-blue markets, and 25% in dark-blue markets. But the relationship between price declines and redness or blueness was not statistically significant. (See note.)

Nor does the recent recovery show any clear bias toward red or blue markets. In September 2014, home prices were up 7.0% year-over-year in red markets, 6.2% in light-blue markets, and 6.3% in dark-blue markets. The markets with the largest price increases included red metros like Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, FL, and Birmingham, AL, and dark-blue metros like Miami and Toledo, OH. The relationship between year-over-year price increases and 2012 voting patterns is not statistically significant. Another recovery measure, the share of homes in foreclosure, also doesn’t show a statistically significant correlation with 2012 voting patterns.

Key Housing Data in the Reddest Metros
U.S. Metro 2012 Vote Margin: Obama vs. Romney Price Decline in Housing Bust, Peak-to-Trough Year-Over-Year Price Change, Sept. 2014 Median Asking Price Per Square Foot, $
1 Knoxville, TN -34% -8% 2.1% $98
2 Tulsa, OK -32% -4% 7.3% $90
3 Greenville, SC -30% -8% 5.9% $92
4 Oklahoma City, OK -27% -3% 4.0% $98
5 Fort Worth, TX -23% -6% 6.4% $94
6 Salt Lake City, UT -21% -22% 4.7% $129
7 Colorado Springs, CO -21% -12% 4.0% $107
8 Birmingham, AL -20% -13% 11.5% $96
9 Jacksonville, FL -19% -38% 7.0% $109
10 Bakersfield, CA -17% -52% 8.2% $126

Note: among 100 largest U.S. metros. Reddest metros are those with highest negative margin for Obama vs. Romney in 2012. See blogpost note for data sources. Data for all 100 metros available here.

Key Housing Data in the Bluest Metros
U.S. Metro 2012 Vote Margin: Obama vs. Romney Price Decline in Housing Bust, Peak-to-Trough Year-Over-Year Price Change, Sept. 2014 Median Asking Price Per Square Foot, $
1 San Francisco, CA 58% -23% 9.9% $613
2 Oakland, CA 50% -39% 11.9% $342
3 New York, NY-NJ 49% -18% 4.3% $320
4 Detroit, MI 47% -40% 11.4% $75
5 San Jose, CA 42% -26% 8.6% $430
6 Los Angeles, CA 42% -35% 6.9% $334
7 Honolulu, HI 39% -11% 4.1% $439
8 Washington, DC-VA-MD-WV 37% -25% 3.2% $177
9 Fort Lauderdale, FL 35% -48% 6.9% $143
10 Seattle, WA 35% -26% 8.9% $197
Note: among 100 largest U.S. metros. Bluest metros are those with highest positive margin for Obama vs. Romney in 2012. See blogpost note for data sources. Data for all 100 metros available here.



Affordability Is a Bigger Problem for Blue Markets

Things look fundamentally different when we compare red and blue markets in terms of affordability and related measures. The tables above show that none of the 10 reddest markets had a median asking price per square foot above $130 in Sept. 2014. But nine of the 10 bluest markets did. Looking across all 100 largest metros, the correlation between price-per-square-foot and 2012 vote margin was positive, high (0.63), and statistically significant. In fact, the only expensive red market was Orange County, CA, at $363 per square foot. There was a huge drop-off to the next-most-expensive red market—North Port-Bradenton-Sarasota, FL, at $150 per square foot.

When we plot local market home price per-square-foot and the 2012 presidential vote, we see that most of the red metros are clustered in the lower left-hand corner of the figure, where prices were lowest.


Strikingly, housing costs nearly twice as much in dark-blue markets ($227 per square foot) than in red markets ($119).


Sure, households in blue markets tend to have higher incomes. But those higher incomes are not enough to offset higher home prices. Our middle-class affordability measure, which reflects the share of homes for sale within reach of a median-income household, is significantly lower in bluer markets. Furthermore, blue markets have lower homeownership and greater income inequality than red markets. As with affordability, the relationships between homeownership and inequality on one hand and 2012 voting patterns on the other hand are statistically significant.

What does all this mean? The point is not that Democrats cause expensive housing, lower homeownership, or greater inequality. Determining whether and how the political views of voters or their elected officials affect local housing markets is the stuff of scholarly research, not short blogposts. But because blue markets are less affordable, have lower homeownership, and have greater income inequality, political leaders in Democratic-leaning and Republican-leaning metros may push for different policies.

Furthermore, these local differences in home prices mean that some national housing policies favor red markets and others blue markets. For instance, the current system of conforming loan limits benefits red markets more because homes in those markets are likelier to fall within local loan limits. But the mortgage interest deduction benefits blue markets more, thanks to higher home prices and more residents in higher tax brackets. Such differences could make it harder to reform these long-standing policies. In short, the differences between blue and red local housing markets may add to the challenge of reaching agreement on national housing policies.

Note: Metro-level 2012 Presidential election data are aggregated from county-level data in the Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections. Peak-to-trough price declines are calculated from the Federal Housing Finance Agency House Price Index. Year-over-year price changes and median asking prices per square foot are from the Trulia Price Monitor. Correlations mentioned in this post are metro-level, weighted by number of households in the metro, and statistically significant if p<.05. The correlation of price per square foot and vote margin is calculated using the natural log of price per square foot.



Cutting Housing Costs When Financial Hardship Strikes

If forced to spend less on housing, people would rather change where they live than whom they live with. Downsizing is the #1 way people would reduce their housing costs. Furthermore, renters are significantly more willing to move or get a roommate than homeowners are.

In good economic times as well as in bad, financial hardship can always strike. And when it does, people might have to cut back on housing, which is typically the largest household expense. However, cutting housing costs involves hard tradeoffs: moving can be expensive and a hassle, and living with family, friends, or strangers can be a challenge. To understand how people might make these tradeoffs, we asked 2,048 Americans in late March and early April 2014 the following question:

“If you experienced a major financial hardship (e.g., lost your job, unexpected medical bills), and you needed to cut back significantly on your housing costs, which of the following would you most likely do? Please select all that apply.”

Here’s what they told us.

Everyone’s Top Cost-Cutting Strategy: Downsizing
Facing financial hardship that required cutting back on housing, nearly 2 in 5 people (38%) would move to a smaller home — more than any other option by a wide margin. In fact, twice as many people would prefer downsizing than the next most popular actions of (1) renting out part of their home to a roommate or housemate or (2) moving to a more affordable neighborhood. Far fewer people would take the more radical actions of living in their car or not paying the rent or mortgage.

How Would You Cut Your Housing Costs If Hit With A Major Financial Hardship? Share
Move to a smaller home/apartment 38%
Rent out part of my home to a roommate/housemate 19%
Move to a more affordable neighborhood in the same city, metro area, or region 19%
Move to a more affordable city, metro area, or region 16%
Move into my parents’ home 14%
Move into my children’s (or other relative’s) home 8%
Rent out part of my home to vacationers/visitors 6%
Live in my car, office, or another place that’s not intended as housing 5%
Move into a non-relative’s home 4%
I would stay in my current home but stop paying the rent or mortgage 4%

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