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Reasonable people did disagree : optimism and pessimism about the U.S. housing market before the crash

  • Kristopher S. Gerardi
  • Christopher L. Foote
  • Paul S. Willen

Understanding the evolution of real-time beliefs about house price appreciation is central to understanding the U.S. housing crisis. At the peak of the recent housing cycle, both borrowers and lenders appealed to optimistic house price forecasts to justify undertaking increasingly risky loans. Many observers have argued that these rosy forecasts ignored basic theoretical and empirical evidence that pointed to a massive overvaluation of housing and thus to an inevitable and severe price decline. We revisit the boom years and show that the economics profession provided little such countervailing evidence at the time. Many economists, skeptical that a bubble existed, attempted to justify the historic run-up in housing prices based on housing fundamentals. Other economists were more uncertain, pointing to some evidence of bubble-like behavior in certain regional housing markets. Even these more skeptical economists, however, refused to take a conclusive position on whether a bubble existed. The small number of economists who argued forcefully for a bubble often did so years before the housing market peak, and thus lost a fair amount of credibility, or they make arguments fundamentally at odds with the data even ex post. For example, some economists suggested that cities where new construction was limited by zoning regulations or geography were particularly "bubble-prone," yet the data shows that the cities with the biggest gyrations in house prices were often those at the epicenter of the new construction boom. We conclude by arguing that economic theory provides little guidance as to what should be the "correct" level of asset prices -- including housing prices. Thus, while optimistic forecasts held by many market participants in 2005 turned out to be inaccurate, they were not ex ante unreasonable.

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Paper provided by Federal Reserve Bank of Boston in its series Public Policy Discussion Paper with number 10-5.

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Date of creation: 2010
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Handle: RePEc:fip:fedbpp:10-5
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  1. Reshmaan N. Hussam & David Porter & Vernon L. Smith, 2008. "Thar She Blows: Can Bubbles Be Rekindled with Experienced Subjects?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(3), pages 924-37, June.
  2. Kristopher S. Gerardi & Andreas Lehnert & Shane M. Sherlund & Paul S. Willen, 2009. "Making sense of the subprime crisis," Working Paper 2009-02, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.
  3. 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.
  4. Morris A. Davis & Andreas Lehnert & Robert F. Martin, 2005. "The Rent-Price Ratio for the Aggregate Stock of Owner-Occupied Housing," Urban/Regional 0509019, EconWPA.
  5. 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.
  6. Smith, Vernon L & Suchanek, Gerry L & Williams, Arlington W, 1988. "Bubbles, Crashes, and Endogenous Expectations in Experimental Spot Asset Markets," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 56(5), pages 1119-51, September.
  7. Albert Saiz, 2010. "The Geographic Determinants of Housing Supply," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 125(3), pages 1253-1296, August.
  8. Ernan Haruvy & Yaron Lahav & Charles N. Noussair, 2007. "Traders' Expectations in Asset Markets: Experimental Evidence," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 97(5), pages 1901-1920, December.
  9. Dean Baker, 2002. "The Run-up in Home Prices: A Bubble," Challenge, M.E. Sharpe, Inc., vol. 45(6), pages 93-119, November.
  10. Christopher Foote & Kristopher Gerardi & Lorenz Goette & Paul S. Willen, 2009. "Reducing foreclosures: no easy answers," Working Paper 2009-15, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.
  11. John Krainer & Chishen Wei, 2004. "House prices and fundamental value," FRBSF Economic Letter, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, issue oct1.
  12. Cabray L. Haines & Richard J. Rosen, 2007. "Bubble, bubble, toil, and trouble," Economic Perspectives, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, issue Q I, pages 16-35.
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