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The Puzzling Divergence of Rents and User Costs, 1980-2004

  • Randal Verbrugge


    (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

This paper demonstrates that, in the context of U.S. housing data, rents and ex ante user costs diverge markedly—in both growth rates and levels—for extended periods of time, a seeming failure of arbitrage and a puzzle from the perspective of standard capital theory. The tremendous volatility of even appropriately-smoothed ex ante annual user cost measures implies that such measures are unsuitable for inclusion in official price statistics. The divergence holds not only at the aggregate level, but at the metropolitan-market level as well, and is robust across different house price and rent measures. But transactions costs matter: the large persistent divergences did not imply the presence of unexploited profit opportunities. In particular, even though detached housing is readily moved between owner and renter markets, and the detached-unit rental market is surprisingly thick, transactions costs would have prevented risk-neutral investors from earning expected profits by buying a property to rent out for a year, and would have prevented risk-neutral homeowners from earning expected profits by selling their homes and becoming renters for a year. Finally, computing implied appreciation as a residual yields a house price forecast with huge errors; but either longer-horizon or no-real-capital-gains forecasts— which turn out to have similar forecast errors—imply a far less divergent user cost measure which might ultimately be useful for official price statistics. Some conjectures are offered.

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Paper provided by U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in its series Working Papers with number 422.

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Length: 39 pages
Date of creation: Mar 2009
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:bls:wpaper:ec080080
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  1. Donald R. Haurin & Patric H. Hendershott & Dongwook Kim, 1991. "Local House Price Indexes: 1982-1991," Real Estate Economics, American Real Estate and Urban Economics Association, vol. 19(3), pages 451-472.
  2. Michelle H. Dreiman & Anthony Pennington-Cross, 2004. "Alternative Methods of Increasing the Precision of Weighted Repeat Sales House Prices Indices," The Journal of Real Estate Finance and Economics, Springer, vol. 28(4), pages 299-317, 05.
  3. Case, Karl E. & Quigley, John M. & Shiller, Robert J., 2003. "Home-buyers, Housing and the Macroeconomy," Berkeley Program on Housing and Urban Policy, Working Paper Series qt0v59r392, Berkeley Program on Housing and Urban Policy.
  4. Karl E. Case & Robert J. Shiller, 1988. "The Efficiency of the Market for Single-Family Homes," NBER Working Papers 2506, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Theodore M. Crone & Leonard I. Nakamura & Richard Voith, 2010. "Rents Have Been Rising, Not Falling, in the Postwar Period," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 92(3), pages 628-642, August.
  6. John S. Greenlees, 1982. "An Empirical Evaluation of the CPI Home Purchase Index, 1973-1978," Real Estate Economics, American Real Estate and Urban Economics Association, vol. 10(1), pages 1-24.
  7. Davis, Morris & Heathcote, Jonathan, 2005. "The Price and Quantity of Residential Land in the United States," CEPR Discussion Papers 5333, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  8. Gatzlaff, Dean H & Haurin, Donald R, 1997. "Sample Selection Bias and Repeat-Sales Index Estimates," The Journal of Real Estate Finance and Economics, Springer, vol. 14(1-2), pages 33-50, Jan.-Marc.
  9. Theodore M. Crone & Leonard I. Nakamura & Richard Voith, 1999. "Measuring housing services inflation," Working Papers 99-9, Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.
  10. Edward L. Glaeser & Jesse M. Shapiro, 2003. "The Benefits of the Home Mortgage Interest Deduction," NBER Chapters, in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 17, pages 37-82 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Case, Bradford & Pollakowski, Henry O & Wachter, Susan M, 1997. "Frequency of Transaction and House Price Modeling," The Journal of Real Estate Finance and Economics, Springer, vol. 14(1-2), pages 173-87, Jan.-Marc.
  12. Jonathan McCarthy & Richard W. Peach, 2004. "Are home prices the next "bubble"?," Economic Policy Review, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, issue Dec, pages 1-17.
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