Friday, July 18, 2008

Buying the Wrong House

Jonah Lehrer at Science Blog:

What's interesting is that the more time people spend deliberating, the more important that extra space becomes. They'll imagine all sorts of scenarios (a big birthday party, Thanksgiving dinner, another child) that will turn the suburban house into an absolute necessity. The lengthy commute, meanwhile, will seem less and less significant, at least when compared to the allure of an extra bathroom. But, as Dijksterhuis points out, that reasoning process is exactly backwards: "The additional bathroom is a completely superfluous asset for at least 362 or 363 days each year, whereas a long commute does become a burden after a while." For instance, a recent study found that, when a person travels more than one hour in each direction, they have to make forty per cent more money in order to be as "satisfied with life" as someone with a short commute. Another study, led by Daniel Kahneman and the economist Alan Krueger, surveyed nine hundred working women in Texas and found that commuting was, by far, the least pleasurable part of their day. And yet, despite these gloomy statistics, nearly 20 percent of American workers commute more than forty-five minutes each way. (More than 3.5 million Americans spend more than three hours each day traveling to and from work: they're currently the fastest growing category of commuter.
Interesting and yet predictable. Jumping back to the beginning of the article:

One way to understand the collapse of the real estate bubble (and our current financial mess) is as a massive case of bad decision-making. The mistakes, of course, were made by many different people and organizations: the investment banks who bought subprime debt, the credit rating agencies who gave that debt high ratings, the mortgage brokers who gave out shady loans to people with bad credit, etc. But, in the end, the bubble really began when lots of people chose to buy the wrong home. They bought homes that were too big and too expensive, fueling an unsustainable boom in new home construction. They took our mortgages they couldn't afford.
I believe this to be an oversimplification. This presumption is fundamentally based on actually having a choice. When you really look at it, schools, parks, affordability (because there are so few quality urban dwellings), and the peer pressure of ownership, particularly in the 'burbs really eliminates the possibility of choice.

But, at the end of the day every one was pushed to buy in the last five years because public opinion was stupidly coerced into believing that housing prices could rise ad infinitum. As MillionaireMommyNextDoor has shown, median housing prices should be about 3x median income levels, yet people were buying 10x and greater, largely because brokers pushed it, banks allowed it, etc.

It also doesn't help that all federal funding for highways was the real boondoggle behind the whole faulty engine.