House Prices and Rents in the 21st Century House Prices and Rents in the 21st Century

By Lara Loewenstein and Paul S. Willen

This paper introduces a framework for interpreting fluctuations in house prices using a new data set of transactions involving single-family and small multifamily homes. The data set includes information on owner- and renter-occupied properties, and it includes sale and rent transactions. The data enable the authors to measure price growth on both types of properties and to calculate a price-to-rent ratio using only renter-occupied properties—properties that are explicitly comparable.

The authors look at the potential drivers of house-price and rent movements during their sample period of 2001 through 2021. These include increases in preferences for housing (preference shocks) and beliefs about future house-price price growth (expectation shocks). Expectation shocks, which generate self-fulfilling price increases, are often the cause of housing bubbles.

While each of the shocks that the authors examine can increase house prices, their implications for the prices of renter-occupied housing, owner-occupied housing, and rent differ. By examining changes in rent, in the price-to-rent ratio, and in the ratio between the prices of owner-occupied houses and renter-occupied houses (the price-to-price ratio), the authors assess which type of shock can best explain the house-price booms of the early 2020s and the early 2000s.

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