Housing wealth effects: The long view
Adam M. Guren, Assistant Professor of Economics, Boston University
Alisdair McKay, Associate Professor of Economics, Boston University
Emi Nakamura, Professor of Business and Economics, Columbia University
Jón Steinsson, Professor of Economics, Columbia University
We provide new, time-varying estimates of the housing wealth effect back to the 1980s. We exploit systematic differences in city-level exposure to regional house price cycles to instrument for house prices. Our main findings are that: 1) Large housing wealth effects are not new: we estimate substantial effects back to the mid 1980s; 2) Housing wealth effects were not particularly large in the 2000s; if anything, they were larger prior to 2000; and 3) There is no evidence of a boom-bust asymmetry. We compare these findings to the implications of a standard life-cycle model with borrowing constraints, uninsurable income risk, illiquid housing, and long-term mortgages. The model explains our empirical findings about the insensitivity of the housing wealth effects to changes in the loan-to-value (LTV) distribution, including the dramatic rise in LTVs in the Great Recession. The insensitivity arises in the model for two reasons. First, impatient low-LTV agents have a high elasticity. Second, a rightward shift in the LTV distribution increases not only the number of highly sensitive constrained agents but also the number of underwater agents whose consumption is insensitive to house prices.