Preemptive Bubble Bursting

The Journal’s Bob Hagerty, who did lots of great work warning of problems in housing before the bubble burst, is now trying to pop a bubble that hasn’t even started inflating yet. And he’s right to do so.

Those hoping for a quick rebound are likely to be disappointed. Economists and other pros generally say home prices won’t bottom out before the second half of 2009, and some don’t see a bottom until 2011 or 2012. Even when they stop falling, prices may scrape along the bottom of the rut for years.

Hagerty looks at several recent surveys that, incredibly, found that Americans are expecting home prices to take off again. He throws lots of cold water on that idea, though he points out that some areas will see significantly rising prices sooner or later.

And the graying Baby Boomers will put a brake on whatever price acceleration there may be:

Dowell Myers, a professor of urban planning and demography at the University of Southern California, warns that the retirement of boomers over the next two decades is likely to depress house prices in many areas. As boomers relocate to retirement homes and cemeteries, there will be a lot more sellers than buyers in parts of the country, he says.

I propose this way of looking at things: If you insist on thinking of your house as investment, imagine it as a bond, not a stock.

Over the long run, he says, home prices tend to increase on average at an inflation-adjusted rate of 2.5% to 3% a year, about the same as per capita income. He thinks that long-run pattern is likely to continue, despite the recent choppiness

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.