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Urban decline and housing reinvestment: the role of construction costs and the supply side

  • Joseph Gyourko
  • Albert Saiz

Negative demand shocks have afflicted many American cities in the 20th century and are the main explanation for their decaying housing markets. But what is the role of housing supply? Rational entrepreneurs should not invest in new buildings and renovation when home values are below replacement cost. Households with an investment motive should behave similarly. Empirically, the authors find that construction costs are not very sensitive to building activity but do vary with local income, unionization rates in the construction sector, the level of local regulation, and region. They also document that the variance in building costs generates substantial variance in renovation expenditures across cities. Owner-occupied homes with market values below replacement costs spend about 50 percent less on renovation than similar homes with market values above construction costs. The authors also report on the distribution of the ratio of house value-to-construction cost across markets. The distribution is relatively flat in a number of declining cities, especially older manufacturing areas. In these places, a relatively modest 10 percent decline in replacement costs would find between 7-15 percent of the local housing stock moving from being valued below cost to above cost. Even though modest declines in construction costs are unlikely to change basic urban trends, the authors' results suggest they can be an important factor in determining whether various neighborhoods in declining cities will experience any significant reinvestment. In this respect, declining cities truly cannot afford to be expensive cities in terms of replacement costs: urban scholars and policy makers should begin to pay more attention to the cost side of cities.

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Paper provided by Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia in its series Working Papers with number 03-9.

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Date of creation: 2003
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Handle: RePEc:fip:fedpwp:03-9
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  1. Thomas P. Boehm & Keith R. Ihlanfeldt, 1986. "The Improvement Expenditures of Urban Homeowners: An Empirical Analysis," Real Estate Economics, American Real Estate and Urban Economics Association, vol. 14(1), pages 48-60.
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  10. Edward L. Glaeser & Joseph Gyourko, 2001. "Urban Decline and Durable Housing," NBER Working Papers 8598, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  12. Bogdon, Amy S., 1996. "Homeowner Renovation and Repair: The Decision to Hire Someone Else to Do the Project," Journal of Housing Economics, Elsevier, vol. 5(4), pages 323-350, December.
  13. Roback, Jennifer, 1982. "Wages, Rents, and the Quality of Life," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 90(6), pages 1257-78, December.
  14. Goodman, John Jr. & Ittner, John B., 1992. "The accuracy of home owners' estimates of house value," Journal of Housing Economics, Elsevier, vol. 2(4), pages 339-357, December.
  15. Reschovsky, James D, 1992. "An Empirical Investigation into Homeowner Demand for Home Upkeep and Improvement," The Journal of Real Estate Finance and Economics, Springer, vol. 5(1), pages 55-71, March.
  16. Nelson, Forrest & Olson, Lawrence, 1978. "Specification and Estimation of a Simultaneous-Equation Model with Limited Dependent Variables," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 19(3), pages 695-709, October.
  17. Stuart S. Rosenthal, 1999. "Residential Buildings And The Cost Of Construction: New Evidence On The Efficiency Of The Housing Market," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 81(2), pages 288-302, May.
  18. Knight, John R. & Sirmans, C. F., 1996. "Depreciation, Maintenance, and Housing Prices," Journal of Housing Economics, Elsevier, vol. 5(4), pages 369-389, December.
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