Jul 14, 2019

Millions of Americans make 5x leveraged bets on their homes

Data: Unison Home Price Volatility Index; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

You wouldn't make a 5x leveraged bet on the S&P 500 — not unless you were an extremely sophisticated financial arbitrageur, or a reckless gambler.

Even then you wouldn't put substantially all of your net worth into such a bet. Stocks are just too volatile. But millions of Americans make 5x leveraged bets on their homes — that's what it means to borrow 80% of the value of the house and put just 20% down.

By the numbers: Unison, a housing-finance startup, has crunched U.S. house-price data in a paper to be released tomorrow. Over the long run, any given home is likely to experience price volatility of about 15% per year; during the height of the crisis, that number spiked to more than 35%. That's broadly in line with the kind of volatility you see in the stock market.

  • Unison's results are in line with public data from the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which show annualized house-price volatility, over the past 10 years, ranging from 12% in Alaska to 17% in Hawaii, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Be smart: Annualized house price volatility is much greater than the amount you can expect a home to rise in value over the long term. That number is closer to about 4%. While homes are much less volatile than individual stocks, they're just as volatile as the kind of diversified stock indices most people invest in.

The bottom line: Any given home has roughly a 30% chance of ending up being worth less in five years' time than it is today. If you can't afford that to happen, you probably shouldn't buy.

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The market's unusual calm

Traders work after the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange on July 16. Photo: Johannes Eiselle /AFP/Getty Images

The stock market has been unusually calm this year, prompting traders to place increasingly large bets on low market volatility — but they could be setting themselves and the broader market up for big losses.

What's happening: The S&P 500 hasn't moved more than 1% in either direction in more than 5 weeks, according to Datatrek co-founder Nicholas Colas. That defies historical trends and is leading more investors to take short-sell bets that the Cboe Volatility Index (VIX), which tracks big, unexpected moves in the market, will decline.

Go deeperArrowJul 18, 2019

The roots of the rental economy

While American households don't have a lot of liquid savings, the capital markets are positively sloshing with liquidity. They're a key source of funds for companies like Opendoor and Zillow, which are building enormous businesses buying houses for cash at algorithmically generated prices.

What they’re not saying: While these companies are happy to talk about how easy they make selling a house, they talk less about the people who buy those houses. That's because, a very large part of the time, the homes never end up in the hands of individuals. Instead, they end up in massive rental portfolios.

Go deeperArrowAug 11, 2019

Investors are snapping up houses at a record pace

The housing market slump continues, and one little-discussed driver has been the increasing share of housing owned by investors who are looking for financial gains rather than a place to live.

The big picture: The supply of starter homes is already historically low and with prices continuing to rise and young potential buyers more indebted than ever, there's little sign that the struggles in the housing market will correct in the near-term, analysts say, even with low mortgage rates.

Go deeperArrowAug 8, 2019