How To Prepare For The Property Bubble

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All but the most stubborn optimist knows that the property bubble of the 2000s is now deflating. This is a cause for concern for just about everyone since so much of our economy - roughly one in four jobs since 2003 --- has come from housing related employment.

But as in any downturn there are greater and lesser losers. My take is that the biggest downturns will be felt in those areas with the highest concentration of high-end houses, the biggest percentage of speculators and second home buyers. I'd watch out for overhyped markets like downtowns, such as in Los Angeles, where there has been a lot of new construction but a continued erosion of jobs. In 1995 624,000 people worked downtown, according to the LA Economic Development Corporation. Today there are 445,000. Even in the last fhree years, when almost everywhere else in the region was gaining employment, the trend is negative.

LA is not unique. Other hyper-inflated markets with poor job growth include central Philadelphia, Chicago and Miami, all much celebrated centers of condomania. Almost every day or so you hear of projects being pulled or delayed. Expect more.

The suburbs won't be immune, of course. Large new developments of single family homes are being quietly put aside for the time being, according to industry sources. The impacts may be severe in some of the fastest growing markets like Phoenix, Reno and Las Vegas.

So whose safest? I would argue places where prices are somewhat reasonable like Dallas and Houston. I would also focus on areas where there are new jobs being created. People with jobs, and families, are less likely to pull up stakes and leave a mortgage behind than short-term flippers or nomadic second home buyers.

This is why I would look for growth in markets -- say in Great Plains, Texas and even parts of the southwest -- where prices are moderate and job growth is taking place. For the red-hot stars of condomania, it will be a time of readjustment, but with a possible silver lining. As speculators and developers are forced to price their units down, perhaps there will be new housing opportunities for mid-income workers and families. That would be a welcome development indeed for employers, particularly in the big cities on both coasts,who have had trouble attracting or retaining middle class, middle aged workers.

Last updated: Aug 31, 2006




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