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NewDealdemocrat, Angry Bear:

If house prices have risen to new highs several times since the turn of the Millennium, so have apartment rents – almost relentlessly.

In percentage terms, in 1988, the median rent for an apartment was 14.5% of median household income. That rose to slightly over 16% in the mid 1990s before falling to the series’ low of 13.7% in 2000. It had risen to a record 18.4% of median household income in the 2nd quarter of 2017, the last available data when I first published this piece.

Since then, the situation has only gotten worse. In Q3 median asking rent was 18.7% of median household income. In Q4 it was 18.6%. And in the first quarter of 2018 it rose to 19.3%!

The overall trend in the last 30 years has been that monthly mortgage payments have fallen from over 3 times median rent to about 1.5 times median rent now. Put another way, even at the peak of the housing bubble, the monthly carrying cost of a house was about 2.3 times the median cost of renting an apartment. At the bottom of the bust, that fell to 1.4 times the cost to rent. For the last five years, monthly mortgage payments have hovered near 1.5 times the median asking rent.

What is particularly noteworthy is that even with the recent big increase in mortgage payments, rents have also increased so much so that the 1.5 ratio still holds.

Record down payments are keeping an increasing number of prospective buyers, especially first time buyers, shut out of the market for buying a house. An enormous number are living in apartments instead. This explains both the multi-decade lows in the homeownership rate as well as the recent 30 year lows in the apartment vacancy rates, as a disproportionate number of adults are forced out of home ownership and into apartment dwelling.

But even with the recent increase in mortgage payments, in relative terms they are still lower than they were at the peak of the housing bubble, and a relative bargain compared with their historical multiple of rental payments. In short, if one can get past the down payment, home ownership still looks like the better choice.

That being said, with increasing financial stress showing up across the board in the costs of both buying and renting, we can only expect to see even more involuntary extended family households and involuntary unrelated housemates. Further, if interest rates and housing costs increase much further – most importantly, if home builders continue to focus on only the most expensive segment of the market – at some point they will overwhelm the increased numbers of home-buying age Millennials who have been buoying up the market. Sales will turn down, followed by home values, leading to another deflationary bust.

Via naked capitalism.

Paul Ciano

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