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The True Cost of the Homeownership Obsession

In 2014, the US homeownership rate fell below 65 percent, which means it’s back to where it was during the 1970s and much of the 1990s. Various federal agencies have long made homeownership a priority, and have introduced a bevy of government and quasi-government programs including the GSEs like Fannie Mae, FHA-insured loans, VA-insured loans, the Bush administration’s “American Dream Downpayment Initiative” and, of course central bank meddling to keep interest rates nice and low for the mortgage markets.

A Housing-Related Employment Bubble
The housing bubble became the gift that seemingly never stopped giving because with all this home buying came millions of new jobs in real estate, construction, and home mortgages. Seemingly everyone looked to real estate as a source of easy money. The bag boy at your local grocery store was selling condos on the side, and everyone seemed to be selling new home loans. Home builders couldn’t keep up with the orders and contractors had six-week waiting lists.

Was the Bubble Worth It?
And for what? The opportunity cost of it all was immense and during the bubble years, total workers in housing-related employment ballooned to 7.4 million, many of whom were fooled by the bubble into thinking the home-sales industry was a good long-term career. To get these jobs they spent many hours and thousands of dollars on certification, training, and job experience. After the bubble popped, three million of those jobs disappeared. From 2001 to 2006, employment in the mortgage industry increased by 119 percent, only to have most of those jobs disappear from 2006 to 2009.

The people were promised more homeownership, but after just a few years, it has become clear they didn’t get it. At the same time, Wall Street was promised high home prices, and when the prices faltered, it was offered bailouts instead. Wall Street got its bailouts.
The cost of the housing bubble is often calculated in dollar amounts that can easily be counted on Wall Street, but for those who aren’t politically well-connected — for ordinary workers, homeowners, construction firms, and many others — the cost in time and lost opportunities will forever remain among the many unseen costs of government intervention.

Source Mises Institute

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