Home Equity Economy

Don’t get me wrong, I am thrilled to see Case-Schiller reporting double-digit annual growth across all composites in their latest report. The 10- and 20-city composites showed gains of 10.3 and 10.9 percent through the year ending in March 2013.

For the Dallas area Home Price Level Index, the year-over-year growth according to Case-Schiller’s indicies was a very healthy 7.94 (117.02 in 3/12 and 124.96 in 3/13). So yes, we’re experiencing growth, but why is our total economic recovery so slow?

Mark Dotzour, chief economis at the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University, explains it this way:

We are witnessing a recovery in the housing market. Housing prices are increasing, and new residential construction is picking up. The increase in home prices has a positive effect on economic activity in two ways.

First, an increase in housing prices gives way to investment in new housing construction. Second, the “housing wealth effect” is magnified as an increase in residential prices causes some households to increase their expenditures on home improvement, consumption or both. But to do so, they must first get a loan from a financial institution. This is extremely difficult to achieve under current borrowing constraints and behavioral biases.

As discussed earlier, households have been deleveraging from high debt levels as they attempt to manage debt. Conditions are tight; banks are not willing to lend easily. Uncertainty about job retention and professional growth is another factor that lowers the probability households will increase their debt burden.

Dotzour goes on to add that homeowners with less-than-stellar credit are less likely to capitalize from the recovery of the housing market. It’s those homeowners who have pristine credit, high levels of equity, and very little debt who are able to make money from the process of selling their home.

So what amounts to a full economic recovery? Well, it’s bigger than the housing market, Dotzour says. Sure, a sharp decline in the housing market can tank the economy, but home prices and construction alone won’t revive it.

If household debt decreases and technological gains increase, then employment increases, and, therefore, household income rebounds, Dotzour adds. So while it’s good to be optimistic about the housing market, our economic recovery is still waiting in the wings.