Home buying should come with a warning label. One that says, “Alert! Home buying may lead to becoming an overnight amateur economist.” Cue the daily economic reports, news networks you never watched before and the Internet black hole of housing market data and research.
Who can blame you? Most of us want to be smart and strategic about making the largest financial investment of our lives. And if that doesn’t apply to you personally, it may perfectly describe your partner.
But don’t panic about your new pastime becoming a full-time job, because you don’t have to be John Maynard Keynes to understand the housing market. (You don’t even have to know he’s one of the most highly regarded economists ever.) You – yes, you – can discover how housing’s doing just by looking at the job market.
The monthly U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics jobs report is your starting point. It always tells an interesting story, even if it’s not exactly a good beach read. The June 2017 report begins, “Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 222,000 in June, and the unemployment rate was little changed at 4.4 percent. Employment increased in health care, social assistance, financial activities and mining.”
Good news has rarely been delivered with less fanfare. (Economists are known for shunning exuberance. For further reading, Google Alan Greenspan.)
Yet the jobs report is the government publication equivalent of a page turner.”
To understand how symbiotic jobs and housing are, you need only look back to 2007.
The housing crash is a textbook case. “It is now well established that the U.S. housing market crisis preceded the labor market crisis,” according to the Aug. 2013 Monthly Labor Review – another less-than-scintillating read published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
That one-two punch of housing and labor decline led to increased cohabitation and decreased homeownership.
Each month, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) puts the (dull) academic report into context. Of the June housing report, NAR’s managing director of housing research, Danielle Hale, wrote: “The combination of hourly earnings increases and more hours worked meant that weekly earnings rose 2.8 percent from last year. Continued labor market health and additional spending power for workers is good news for the housing market, but … home prices continue to outpace income growth.”
Realtor.com’s research page should also be on your syllabus. The site confirms the current market for sellers is the hottest in two decades.
How the housing market looks for first-time buyers is another data point. Millennials typically follow good-paying jobs. Scads of well-employed 25- to 34-year-olds may yield high housing demand.
For 2017, hot job markets for this upwardly mobile (and just plain mobile) group include Madison, Wis., Minneapolis and Omaha, Neb. There, they’ll be met with a good jobs market, but they’ll also find the other side of that coin – higher prices and low inventory.
Look at what kinds of jobs are growing in your area. Lisa A. Sturtevant, Ph.D., an economist, wrote in 2016 of the Washington, D.C. home market: “Better paying jobs – for example, professional and technical services jobs – might lead to more home sales and higher prices … [while] adding low-wage jobs won’t make our market look strong if we’re measuring it by home price growth.”
There’s no need to have a Ph.D. to gauge the state of the housing market. When trying to decide when to buy (or list) a house, study employment numbers. Job security leads to consumer confidence.