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Reconciling User Costs and Rental Equivalence: Evidence from the U.S. Consumer Expenditure Survey

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  • Randal Verbrugge

    ()
    (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

  • Thesia I. Garner

    ()
    (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Abstract

Previous research (Verbrugge, 2008a) demonstrated that housing rents and ex ante user costs diverge markedly for extended periods of time, a finding with profound implications for income and inflation measurement. But the primary data sources in that study were various indexes, based upon largely disjoint data sources, constructed using different aggregation techniques, and each subject to various criticisms. This raised doubts about the quality of the comparison. The relationship between user costs and rents might well be much tighter at the micro level; after all, house prices and rents (and their growth rates) can vary dramatically within cities, and rents are notoriously sticky. Furthermore, the use of indexes precludes both cross-sectional and dollar cost comparisons. In this study, we use Consumer Expenditure Interview Survey (CE) data to examine the relationship between user costs and rents at the individual unit level, in dollars, using unit-level information on house value, rent, taxes, and the like. This allows us to accurately estimate unit-specific user costs and to control for unobservables like structure and neighborhood quality. We also make the point that in theory, after-tax user costs should equal net rent, i.e., expected rental income, rather than gross rent. Our findings are striking. In keeping with most previous research, we find tremendous divergence between conventional measures of user costs and net rents, thus ruling out index construction errors as a possible explanation. This divergence does not result from a faulty rent measure: we find that reported rents are sensible, in that they move similarly to official rent indexes, and are not simply out-of-pocket expenses. Instead, and most perplexing, we find a surprisingly close correspondence between net rents and a particular estimate of user costs, one implicitly assuming zero transactions costs and constructed using an appreciation measure that is both theoretically suspect and empirically a poor predictor of actual appreciation.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in its series Working Papers with number 427.

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Length: 46 pages
Date of creation: Sep 2009
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:bls:wpaper:ec090050

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Keywords: user costs; house price appreciation; forecasting; rental equivalence;

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References

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Citations

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Cited by:
  1. Philippe Bracke, 2013. "House prices and rents: micro evidence from a matched dataset in Central London," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 49723, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  2. John Winters, 2013. "Differences in quality of life estimates using rents and home values," The Annals of Regional Science, Springer, vol. 51(2), pages 377-409, October.
  3. Garner, Thesia I. & Short, Kathleen, 2009. "Accounting for owner-occupied dwelling services: Aggregates and distributions," Journal of Housing Economics, Elsevier, vol. 18(3), pages 233-248, September.
  4. Martin Beznoska & Richard Ochmann, 2012. "Liquidity Constraints and the Permanent Income Hypothesis: Pseudo Panel Estimation with German Consumption Survey Data," Discussion Papers of DIW Berlin 1231, DIW Berlin, German Institute for Economic Research.
  5. Schreyer, Paul, 2009. "User costs and bubbles in land markets," Journal of Housing Economics, Elsevier, vol. 18(3), pages 267-272, September.
  6. Philippe Bracke, 2013. "House Prices and Rents: Micro Evidence from a Matched Dataset in Central London_x0003_," ERSA conference papers ersa13p112, European Regional Science Association.
  7. Martin Beznoska & Richard Ochmann, 2013. "The interest elasticity of household savings: a structural approach with German micro data," Empirical Economics, Springer, vol. 45(1), pages 371-399, August.
  8. Bettina Aten & Marshall Reinsdorf, 2010. "Comparing the Consistency of Price Parities for Regions of the U.S. in an Economic Approach Framework," BEA Papers 0098, Bureau of Economic Analysis.
  9. Frick, Joachim R. & Grabka, Markus M. & Smeeding, Timothy M. & Tsakloglou, Panos, 2010. "Distributional Effects of Imputed Rents in Five European Countries," EconStor Open Access Articles, ZBW - German National Library of Economics, pages 167-179.
  10. Diewert, W. Erwin & Nakamura, Alice O. & Nakamura, Leonard I., 2009. "The housing bubble and a new approach to accounting for housing in a CPI," Journal of Housing Economics, Elsevier, vol. 18(3), pages 156-171, September.
  11. Erwin Diewert, 2010. "Understanding PPPs and PPP-Based National Accounts: Comment," American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics, American Economic Association, vol. 2(4), pages 36-45, October.
  12. Sommer, Kamila & Sullivan, Paul & Verbrugge, Randal, 2013. "The equilibrium effect of fundamentals on house prices and rents," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 60(7), pages 854-870.
  13. Garrido-Yserte, Rubén & Mañas-Alcón, Elena & Gallo-Rivera, Maria Teresa, 2012. "Housing and cost of living: Application to the Spanish regions," Journal of Housing Economics, Elsevier, vol. 21(3), pages 246-255.

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