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The effectiveness of homeownership in building household wealth


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  • Jordan Rappaport


The recent economic and financial crisis and the current slow recovery highlight that homeownership plays a critical role in the U.S. economy. The estimated “equivalent rent” implicitly paid by homeowners accounts for more than 8 percent of gross domestic product. Investment in single-family housing also represents a significant share of GDP and is closely tied to the business cycle. During the past decade, such investment has ranged from as little as 1.3 percent of GDP during recessions to as much as 3.4 percent during expansions. The associated large fluctuations in demand for owner-occupied housing play an important role in driving the business cycle. In addition, demand for owner-occupied housing is especially sensitive to intermediate-term real interest rates and hence to inflation and monetary policy expectations. ; Homeownership also plays an important role in determining household saving, which has implications for national saving and investment. Some aspects of homeownership increase household and national saving. For example, renters intending to purchase a home have an incentive to save to make a down payment on their first home. In addition, new homeowners must promise to save far into the future by making monthly mortgage principal payments. On the other hand, homeownership typically requires large house-related payments and so can reduce household cash flows available to invest in financial assets such as stocks and bonds. ; For decades, conventional wisdom has viewed homeownership as an effective way to build household wealth. However, the recent fall in house prices has caused some observers to question this belief. Rappaport examines whether homeownership effectively builds household wealth. He develops an analytical framework to compare the wealth that homeowners have historically accumulated by building equity in their houses with the wealth they could have accumulated by renting an identical house and investing the resulting saved cash flow in stocks and bonds.

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Article provided by Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City in its journal Economic Review.

Volume (Year): (2010)
Issue (Month): Q IV ()
Pages: 35-65

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Handle: RePEc:fip:fedker:y:2010:i:qiv:p:35-65:n:v.95no.4

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  1. Charles Himmelberg & Christopher Mayer & Todd Sinai, 2005. "Assessing High House Prices: Bubbles, Fundamentals and Misperceptions," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 19(4), pages 67-92, Fall.
  2. Todd M. Sinai & Nicholas S. Souleles, 2009. "Can Owning a Home Hedge the Risk of Moving?," NBER Working Papers 15462, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Morris A. Davis & Francois Ortalo-Magne, 2011. "Household Expenditures, Wages, Rents," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 14(2), pages 248-261, April.
  4. Ihlanfeldt, Keith R. & Martinez-Vazquez, Jorge, 1986. "Alternative value estimates of owner-occupied housing: Evidence on sample selection bias and systematic errors," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 20(3), pages 356-369, November.
  5. Thesia I. Garner & Randal Verbrugge, 2007. "Puzzling Divergence of U.S. Rents and User Costs, 1980-2004: Summary and Extensions," Working Papers 409, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  6. James Poterba & Todd Sinai, 2008. "Tax Expenditures for Owner-Occupied Housing: Deductions for Property Taxes and Mortgage Interest and the Exclusion of Imputed Rental Income," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(2), pages 84-89, May.
  7. Randal Verbrugge, 2008. "The Puzzling Divergence Of Rents And User Costs, 1980-2004," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 54(4), pages 671-699, December.
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Cited by:
  1. Ira Gary Peppercorn & Claude Taffin, 2013. "Rental Housing : Lessons from International Experience and Policies for Emerging Markets," World Bank Publications, The World Bank, number 13117, July.


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