I don’t just mean the report is uninteresting because housing is not net wealth. What I mean is: what relevance does a national aggregate have for actual individuals?
Few people believe inflation is really as low as 3%, because their personal experience tells them it’s more than this. So why should we think another aggregate is relevant to individual experience?
Put it this way. When I had my flat valued, the highest valuation was more than 10% above the lowest. 4.4% is therefore only a fraction of the idiosyncratic uncertainty about a particular property’s price.
Or put it another way. What matters for your house price are local conditions: is a local employer expanding or not? Are transport links improving? Is crime rising? Have gypsies moved in nearby? Are they planning to put up a big new housing estate? These local factors can swamp national ones.
This study of the US found that city-wide price moves can explain only one-fifth of the variation in returns on housing at the zip-code level.
Phil and Kirstie are right: it’s all about location, location, location.
You might think this is just trivial. After all, the average is right, on average. There can be no doubt that average prices are falling.
True. But I think this does have two implications.
First, it’s another reason why a drop in house prices might not have disastrous effects on consumer spending. Local variations, when allied to the optimism bias, cause even those long of housing to think: “things aren’t that bad round here.” Although this attitude helps sustain consumer spending, it can cause housing transactions to fall badly, as sellers continue demanding excessively high prices as the market falls.
Second, it means individual house prices are more volatile than national data pretend. I suspect this is part of the reason why people own so much housing and so few shares. If the national news reported the price change on 22 Acacia Avenue, Sidcup every day, as it does for the FTSE 100, I suspect a lot of people would regard housing as a riskier investment than they do.