walkable regions and real estate values

MLewyn's picture

Pundit Matt Yglesias has dug up some interesting Federal Reserve-compiled data on regional housing prices.  He compares today's housing prices not to those of the mid-2000s real estate boom, but to 1998 pre-boom housing prices.  The Fed's data shows that some regions have experienced long-term price increases despite the recession, while in others housing prices have not recovered to pre-boom levels.

Of course, what new urbanists are most likely to be interested in is whether the most walkable, transit-oriented regions (e.g. New York, Washington, Chicago, Boston) have shown different trends than the most sprawling regions. 

Yglesias has data for five of the United States's six most transit-friendly regions (New York, Boston, Washington, Chicago, and San Francisco).  In four of the five (all but Chicago), housing prices are above their pre-boom levels: for example, Washington's housing prices are about 50 percent over their pre-boom levels.   

On the other hand, the most sprawling cities vary widely.  The three regions where prices have gone down the most (by about 20-40 percent between 1998 and 2012) are sprawl capitals Atlanta, Las Vegas and Detroit.  However, Los Angeles, Miami and Tampa, all heavily car-oriented regions, have experienced long-run appreciation.  So these figures don't prove that regionwide transit access is a major factor in real estate prices.

However, this data does seem to contradict the theory that anti-sprawl regulation caused the bursting of the real estate bubble.  If this was the case, the regions with urban growth boundaries (Portland and Seattle) would have experienced the most instability, and would either (a) have housing prices far below their 1998 levels or (b) have a housing bubble so seductive that their prices continue to radically appreciate.  In fact, both Portland and Seattle are in the middle of the pack.  Out of 19 regions listed, Seattle and Portland are 8th and 10th in long-run appreciation respectively.    On the other hand, Atlanta and Detroit (neither of which has regional development limits of significance) have suffered massive price losses.

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