24 April 2008

Owning vs Renting while Exurb Homes Lose Value

An NPR story about home prices declining in exurban DC compared to rising prices closer-in has been generating some debate online. Here are some excerpts from the original story:

...At a recent auction of foreclosed homes north of Washington, in the Maryland suburbs, there weren't many takers. All of the addresses are far from downtown, and average commute times are among the highest in the nation.

...Inside the city, median home prices are actually up 3.5 percent from a year ago.

...The longer the commute, the steeper the drop in prices.

....buyers are now asking different questions: "What is the cost of gasoline? What is the cost of my time?"

One of the responses on the Freakonomics Blog about this subject seemed insightful:
....making a correlation between housing prices and transit proximity and then leaping to conclusions about gas prices is a bit of a stretch. It’s just too easy, and the most obvious result of a gas price crunch would be a _huge_ increase in the purchase of small cars. Buying a new car is much easier than moving!

Are the areas around transit tend to be more heavily dominated by rental housing? Is the rental market more insulated from foreclosures than owner-occupied market? Are there other links between owner and renter occupied housing that might be playing into this? What about the sort of employment people in urban cores have, compared to suburbanites? Are their key industries doing better or worse? Is transit ridership up or down?

What about cities with nice urban areas and inferior public transit? Are they seeing the same pattern…larger real estate price declines in the suburbs?

My guess is demographics and shifts of perception are _much_ bigger factors than gas prices. People in my parents’ cohort who lived through the ‘67 riots wouldn’t even consider moving into a big city, while none of my peers are particularly keen on moving out to the suburbs.

Rental housing is too often seen as a negative in this country. Everyone is taught that homeownership is a panacea to poverty and social ills, when it isn't. Rental housing does not necessarily destabilize neighborhoods. Actually a mix of owners and renters is best, IMO. We have many neighbors who have been renters their entire life, often living in the same apartment on the same street for dozens of years. Heck, I was a renter for 20 years!

See this article: Homeownership Ideologues:
....folks ... push the ideology of homeownership as an end itself. They insist on lavish government subsidies, even in situations where homeownership is not a good solution for the people affected.

....If a homeowner takes out a 7 percent mortgage ...pays 1 percent of the value in property tax each year, and another 1 percent for insurance and maintenance, then ownership costs are equal to 9 percent of the sale price. If the house sells for 20 times annual rent, then this family is paying 80 percent more in housing costs as homeowners each year than they would pay as renters. If the house was selling for 25 times the annual rent, then the family would be paying 125 percent more as homeowners than they would as renters.

...Incredibly, instead of acknowledging their mistake, the homeownership ideologues want the government to throw even more money at homeownership. (The money is more likely to end up with bankers than homeowners, as I have argued elsewhere.)

One last point. I saw in the paper, that one estimate (admittedly, the higher of several) for the reconfiguration of the I-75 Tylersville exit is $100 million. This caught my eye because it is similar to the cost of the proposed downtown streetcar loop.

When new housing construction in Butler County has slowed to a crawl, and when regional population growth is minimal, should the taxpayers continue to fund the massive expansion of this intersection, which 20 years ago was cornfields? Heck, half the people who have moved out there vacated the west side of Cincinnati. Why are taxpayers subsidizing this redistribution of people?


DP said...

I agree that a mix of owners and renters in a neighborhood is a good thing.

I also agree that ownership is not good for everyone and that a lot of people make stupid decisions - especially in a bubble market when they see all kinds of idiots getting rich.

However, I'm not sure if I agree with Truthout's math. If you look at the CEPR report that he cites, it looks more like a 35% premium to own. And, while I may not totally agree with the policy, the deductability of the mortgage interest probably makes them about equal.

Regarding the Tylersville interchange project (and others like it), my proposed solution is a move toward the use of impact fees to cover the FULL cost for new development. If a developer wants to plunk down a new 500 unit vinyl village in an exurban corn field and it requires new sewers, roads, schools, and a highway interchange, he should have to put up the money to cover it. I think too often, politicians in these communities see the short term spike in property tax revenue as the answer to all their problems.

Such impact fees would encourage efficient use of the infrastructure we already have (i.e., in the urban core and first ring suburbs).

CityKin said...

Impact fees are vigorously opposed by homebuilders and developers and even when implemented don't come close to covering the real costs. The choke point must be federal transportation funding. Emphasis should be on repair or replacement of existing bridges and expansion of alternate modes of transport. I do not want any of my tax money going to Tylersville road so that these people can get their fast food a fraction of a minute faster while our city transport needs go unmet.

Anonymous said...

As I've probably noted here before, I grew up in New York City. My parents, many of their friends, many of my aunts & uncles, have been/were renters their entire lives. My aunt's mother lived in the same apartment off of Second Avenue in the Village for almost 50 years. Not that many people live in their house that long.

I've only been a homeowner myself for the past six years and I have to say, I'm not crazy about owning a house but feel somewhat forced into it. In NYC renters have a lot more protections than they do around here. I know it's controversial (and for good reason), but rent control and stabilization gives tenants a sense of security about their long-term prospects because they know they aren't going to abruptly priced out of their dwelling (as I was as a renter in Cincinnati).

I also have the general sense that there are a lot more regulations in NYC about what landlords owe tenants over things like how often apartments have to be painted, winter heating requirements, etc. Okay, the rules aren't always followed, but they're there, and there are enforcement mechanisms in place.

The apartments of the New Yorkers I know are all much better built than almost all of the apartments of the Cincinnatians (including myself) that I've known. So they were quieter and gave more of a sense of privacy.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, it seems much harder to me to have a good quality of life as an apartment dweller here in the midwest than it is in older, East coast cities. Not as far as neighborhoods go (I much prefer Clifton over Blue Ash, for example), but as far as once you close your door and you're in your home.

Blue Ash Mom

DP said...

Follow-up to Citykin:

Unfortunately, because of the fractured planning process, a community can plan and approve whatever kind of development they want. Then, when all the people show up and the demand is there, the Feds are essentially obligated to provide a "safe, efficient transportation network" (i.e., new/wider roads.)

I wonder if this would work: cutting the federal transportation budget, such that, in terms of highway spending, it only supports maintenance/repair/replacement of existing facilities and leaves funding for new facilities entirely to localities. Then, as has become popular in Ohio recently, the locality is forced to use TIFs to pay for improvements. That way, the new developments would truly be required to pay their own way. You can move to the boonies and buy a 'cheap' house, but your property taxes are going to be a b!*ch because they have to cover the TIF bonds.

Jimmy_James said...

As a homeowner in the city, I'm going to have to respectfully disagree that a mix of owners and renters is a good thing. My street is approximately 90% owner-occupied, single family homes. The other 10% are renters in single family homes, most of which have have been carved into two or three apartments. These homes are not cared for the way that the owner occupied dwellings are; an observer with zero knowledge of the street could pick out the rental units with ease. Whenever there is "trouble" (use your imagination) on the street, it is always at one of these few houses. We even had a house burn down last month. It was a recently vacated rental unit.

Maybe it is just a difference in perspective or a different experience because my street has a problem with bad tenants and absentee landlords, but I'd much rather be surrounded by owners than renters.

DP said...

jimmy_james brings up a subject (one of many) that I could see myself debating with my wife. As a homeowner, yes, I would generally prefer that all of the homes in the community be owner-occupied. But the urban planner in me says that a mix is good for the overall community's health. The alternative is that there are separate districts of owner-occupied homes and rentals.

If rentals are a source of "trouble", concentrating this trouble could result in multiplying the trouble. (The current trend in public housing is to disperse units throughout a city, rather than concentrate them.) I think the theory is that those "evil renters" will benefit from the stability provided by their homeowner neighbors and will maybe, just maybe, grow up to become productive members of society. (sarcasm)

This is when my wife steps in and says "I think that's a great idea, as long as long as none of those renters end up in our neighborhood."

Jimmy_James said...

good point.

CityKin said...

I didn't really think about it, but Blue Ash Mom has a good point about the quality of the apartment building. That is one area in which OTR has some similarity to NYC. The old apartment buildings here are very solid and pretty soundproof, but in most of Cincinnati the apartments are of a lower quality.

I do agree that so called absentee landlords are destructive of a neighborhood. Ideally landlords would live on site or nearby. I know that is rarely the case though. A person who has ownership is more likely to take proper care of the neighborhood.

But ownership of a neighborhood can be felt by an renter too. If they are part of the Community Council, or have a garden plot, or if they are involved in the local church or neighborhood clean-up. In my view, ownership is more of an attitude that must be cultivated. It does not necessarily mean that you have a deed and a mortgage.

VisuaLingual said...

I'm really blown away by some of the comments about renters. It all sounds so, I don't know, provincial and ignorant to me. I think the last comment is spot-on -- anyone can invest in his or her neighborhood, whether it's via joining area organizations, being part of a neighborhood parish, or simply by shopping in the neighborhood. Anyone can also not do this; property ownership isn't really a guarantee of community investment at all levels.

Jimmy_James said...

^ I have nothing against renters in the general sense. I have no problem with anyone who rents a house or a dedicated apartment.

I am referring specifically to the type of property owners that would turn a single family dwelling into several apartments (slum lords), which unfortunately is all too common where I live in Newport. These owners don't live anywhere near these properties, and they let them deteriorate much more so than an owner who lives on the street would.

Also, a tenant that would find such an environment acceptable is rarely the type of individual that is interested in contributing positively to the neighborhood.

Call me ignorant if you will, but I am aware of the neglected state of these houses, I witness the constant fighting at these properties, and I see the frequent police "visits".

Thankfully, Newport recently passed a resolution that will hold landlords accountable for the behavior of their tenants, which promises to reduce this type of rental and the burden it places on the police force and the neighborhood in general.

VisuaLingual said...

Fair enough, although I disagree with your statement that "a tenant that would find such an environment acceptable is rarely the type of individual that is interested in contributing positively to the neighborhood." I think that's a sweeping generalization, and I don't want to discount your personal experience, but I think the issue is much more complex.

In my own personal experience, and that of people I know, cities with negligible vacancy rates and greater tenant protection don't necessarily offer better quality rental units or more responsible landlords. The protection may technically be there, but proving a landlord's neglect or harassment or whatever infractions is difficult and, at the end of the day, you just need a place to live that you can afford. My two Cincinnati landlords/apartments have been fantastic, and I know that's largely luck or coincidence but I suspect it may also have something to do with the neighborhood vacancy rate. Both have been on-site landlords and, yes, I think that makes a world of difference.

Anonymous said...

The renter is in an unkept, perhaps substandard house partially due to the landlord. In a city without enough single family homes of a quality which would attract a buyer, the landlords of this city don't need to compete to get their tenants. They don't even vet the tenants they get knowing disrepair is what their customers have to take. Time for the city to get a program to fix, then market vacant structures. Force the feds to finance homes at the practical level for once!