Real estate economics is the application of economic techniques to real estate markets. It tries to describe, explain, and predict patterns of prices, supply, and demand. The closely related fields of housing economics is narrower in scope, concentrating on residential real estate markets as does the research of real estate trends focus on the business and structural changes impacting the industry. Both draw on partial equilibrium analysis (supply and demand), urban economics, spatial economics, extensive research, surveys and finance.
The main participants in real estate markets are:
Overview of real estate markets
- Owner/User – These people are both owners as well as tenants. They purchase houses or commercial property as an investment and also to live in or utilize as a business.
- Owner – These people are pure investors. They do not consume the real estate that they purchase. Typically they rent out or lease the property to someone else.
- Renter – These people are pure consumers.
- Developers – These people prepare raw land for building which results in new product for the market.
- Renovators – These people supply refurbished buildings to the market.
- Facilitators – This includes banks, real estate brokers, lawyers, and others that facilitate the purchase and sale of real estate.
The owner/user, owner, and renter comprise the demand side of the market, while the developers and renovators comprise the supply side. In order to apply simple supply and demand analysis to real estate markets a number of modifications need to be made to standard microeconomic assumptions and procedures. In particular, the unique characteristics of the real estate market must be accommodated. These characteristics include:
- Durability – Real estate is durable. A building can last for decades or even centuries, and the land underneath it is practically indestructible. Because of this, real estate markets are modeled as a stock/flow market. About 98% of supply consists of the stock of existing houses, while about 2% consists of the flow of new development. The stock of real estate supply in any period is determined by the existing stock in the previous period, the rate of deterioration of the existing stock, the rate of renovation of the existing stock, and the flow of new development in the current period. The effect of real estate market adjustments tend to be mitigated by the relatively large stock of existing buildings.
- Heterogeneous – Every piece of real estate is unique, in terms of its location, in terms of the building, and in terms of its financing. This makes pricing difficult, increases search costs, creates information asymmetry and greatly restricts substitutability. To get around this problem, economists (beginning with Muth (1960)) define supply in terms of service units, that is, any physical unit can be deconstructed into the services that it provides. Olsen (1969) describes these units of housing services as an unobservable theoretical construct. Housing stock depreciates making it qualitatively different from a new building. The market equilibrating process operates across multiple quality levels. Further, the real estate market is typically divided into residential, commercial, and industrial segments. It can also be further divided into subcategories like recreational, income generating, area, historical/protected, etc.
- High Transaction costs – Buying and/or moving into a home costs much more than most types of transactions. These costs include search costs, real estate fees, moving costs, legal fees, land transfer taxes, and deed registration fees. Transaction costs for the seller typically range between 1.5 – 6% of the purchase price. In some countries in Continental Europe, transaction costs for both buyer and seller can range between 15 – 20%.
- Long time delays – The market adjustment process is subject to time delays due to the length of time it takes to finance, design, and construct new supply, and also due to the relatively slow rate of change of demand. Because of these lags there is a great potential for disequilibrium in the short run. Adjustment mechanisms tend to be slow, relative to more fluid markets.
- Both an investment good and a consumption good – Real estate can be purchased with the expectation of attaining a return (an investment good), or with the intention of using it (a consumption good), or both. These functions can be separated (with market participants concentrating on one or the other function) or can be combined (in the case of the person that lives in a house that they own). This dual nature of the good means that it is not uncommon for people to over-invest in real estate, that is, to invest more money in an asset than it is worth on the open market.
- Immobility – Real estate is locationally immobile (save for mobile homes, but the land underneath them is still immobile). Consumers come to the good rather than the good going to the consumer. Because of this, there can be no physical market-place. This spatial fixity means that market adjustment must occur by people moving to dwelling units, rather than the movement of the goods. For example, if tastes change and more people demand suburban houses, people must find housing in the suburbs, because it is impossible to bring their existing house and lot to the suburb (even a mobile home owner, who could move the house, must still find a new lot). Spatial fixity combined with the close proximity of housing units in urban areas suggest the potential for externalities inherent in a given location.
Demand for housing
The main determinants of the demand for housing are demographic. However other factors like income, price of housing, cost and availability of credit, consumer preferences, investor preferences, price of substitutes and price of complements all play a role.
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