Why Are Houses So Expensive? A Guide To Housing Prices

Key Takeaways


For many people, buying a house is the largest purchase they will ever make. It can take anywhere from a few months to several years to save up a down payment, and most mortgages are financed for 15 to 30 years. Even seasoned real estate investors have to spend time securing funding before buying a property. This begs the question: why are houses so expensive?

The average price of a house has changed dramatically over the last few decades. This trend is a result of changing economic factors, rising construction costs, and many other elements. Below we will outline historical shifts in housing prices and what factors have contributed to these changes. Keep reading to learn more about why houses are so expensive and how this could impact your home buying experience.

History Of Housing Prices

The first U.S. housing census was in 1940 when the average price of a single-family home was around $30,600 (when adjusted for inflation). According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average price of a single-family home was $346,000 as of January 2021. So, how did prices go from $30,600 to $346,000?

For the most part, the average cost of a home has experienced steady growth since 1940. However, there have been some spikes and falls caused by various economic factors. The most significant increase in home prices was recorded in the 1970s, with prices growing by 43 percent over the decade. This was followed by the slowest growth period over the 1980s when home prices increased by about 8 percent. There have also been short periods of decline; for example, during the Great Recession in the 2000s, home prices fell by almost 12 percent.

Unfortunately, average salaries and wages in the U.S. have not risen at the same rate as home prices. According to Pew Research Center, wages grow between two and three percent each year. This gap has left many Americans unable to purchase property, particularly in recent years. Although, there are many homeownership programs aimed at combating this reality.

It is also interesting to note how home prices have grown at different rates regionally. For example, the largest increase in the average price of a single-family home is in the Northeastern United States. According to Investopedia, the smallest increases have been seen in the South and Midwest regions. While housing prices fluctuate depending on the area, the U.S. has generally seen growth across the country.


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why are homes so expensive

Why Are Homes So Expensive?

The historical price growth seen in the U.S. housing market is a result of several factors. Political, economic, and other societal changes have combined to result in consistent price increases. Below are the main factors when asking why are houses so expensive:

  1. Lower Interest Rates

  2. Increase In Local Zoning Regulations

  3. Higher Construction Costs

  4. Lower Builder Confidence

  5. Changing Demographics

  6. Increase In Land Prices

  7. Government Subsidies

1. Lower Interest Rates

One of the main reasons home prices have increased over time, especially in recent years, is low interest rates. When interest rates decrease, the cost of financing a home goes down, and more aspiring homeowners are inclined to purchase property. This increase in demand almost always increases overall home prices.

2. Increase In Local Zoning Regulations

As you may already know, building and zoning regulations have come a long way since 1940. The changes in these laws have directly resulted in home price increases, particularly in urban areas. A few examples of zoning regulations are permit requirements, neighborhood restrictions, and population density laws. Together, these have pushed home prices to become more expensive — as they often decrease the potential supply of housing.

3. Higher Construction Costs

Not all construction materials are made in the U.S. and must often be imported from other countries. Political changes and trade agreements have caused the prices of these imports to change over time. When it comes to the housing market, this has contributed to an increase in construction costs. Many materials are more expensive than they once were as a result of tariffs.

4. Lower Builder Confidence

A more recent factor that contributes to the increase in housing prices is a decline in homebuilding. During the Great Recession, many home builders faced significant losses on new construction. Unfortunately, many construction companies and home builders are still wary after these losses, and prices reflect this.

5. Changing Demographics

Home prices have also risen as a result of the new generation of homebuyers: millennials. This group began buying property over the last several years, which resulted in an increased demand for houses. Most notably, millennial homebuyers are drawn to suburban or mixed-use areas.

6. Increase In Land Prices

Over time, population increases have resulted in less available land throughout the country. There is no shortage, but land is generally more expensive to buy than it once was. The increase in land costs is directly related to the rise in average home prices.

7. Government Subsidies

As home prices have increased, the U.S. government has attempted to provide to ease the costs. While these homeownership programs have been extremely beneficial for some, they have also contributed to increased prices. The argument is that subsidies enable homebuyers to pay more for properties, thus pushing sellers to charge more.

Why Are Houses So Expensive Right Now?

The upward trend in home prices has continued in recent years. According to a study by Redfin, home prices increased by almost 15 percent over the last year alone. The reason houses are so expensive right now is simply the result of a supply and demand problem. After the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, interest rates were lowered to help stimulate the economy. The decline in interest rates, coupled with the fact that many Americans wanted to leave apartments and cities in favor of larger living spaces and lower prices, caused an increase in demand. On the other hand, the political and economic uncertainty caused many sellers to retreat from the market. This has resulted in more buyers than sellers — and a dramatic increase in overall housing prices.

why are house prices so high

How Do Rising Housing Prices Affect Investors?

Rising housing prices affect investors in two main ways: increased acquisition costs and increased profit potential. Investors are not immune to rising housing costs and will need to raise more funding to secure their deals. It is crucial to have funding sources to be able to act fast when a new deal presents itself. Additionally, investors must accurately factor in high purchase prices when analyzing the potential returns on a property.

In some cases, the increase in housing prices directly results in higher profit potential for real estate investors. This is because in many areas houses are appreciating faster than ever before. If you are lucky enough to break into a popular market, you could benefit greatly from increases in housing prices. Remember that this is not always the case, and you should always evaluate deals on a case-by-case basis (even if the market appears to be performing well overall).

Advice For Buyers And Sellers

Buyers and sellers are eager to jump into today’s fast-moving real estate markets, but for different reasons. Buyers are interested in the low interest rates that make securing a mortgage seem like an attractive investment. After a year of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, many renters want the space to grow. Remember that while there are high incentives to buy right now, the market will eventually catch up with demand. Pay attention to your finances and your needs for a new home, in time you will find what you are looking for.

Sellers on the other hand should be careful in listing their properties without a back up plan. You may be looking at your overall appreciation thinking what a great time it is to sell. But, you will be entering the same market again as a buyer (unless you want to rent). The best piece of advice for sellers is to plan ahead, and remember that property appreciation will continue to grow even as demand shifts slightly over the next year. Real estate is a long-term investment and there will be time to take advantage of property appreciation, low interest rates, and more.

Summary

Homeownership is at the core of the American dream. For many, buying a house is a once-in-a-lifetime accomplishment, while others make their living buying and selling real estate. Either way, the steady increase in home prices has presented challenges for many individuals. Despite the government’s best efforts at subsidizing these costs, home prices have still risen significantly over the last few decades. When looking at the answer to “why are homes so expensive” remember that this problem results from several factors. Remember to plan accordingly if you are interested in owning real estate, and keep an eye out for all of the various financing methods available to you.


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