Zillow tells us that Millennials and grandparents tend to equate homeownership and the American Dream, and people of color are more likely than white people to put the two together in their minds.
Have a look at the national data, and a drill-down by metro area from Zillow on how the varying age demographic groups respond to a question that links the American Dream to homeownership.
Here's the underlying commentary.
Among people 18-34 years old, 65 percent said homeownership and the American Dream go hand-in-hand. That's more than any other generation. Similar to millennials, 64 percent of respondents age 65 and older said homeownership is necessary for the good life and the American Dream.
People-of-color also were more likely than white people to consider homeownership integral to the American Dream. Of Hispanic respondents surveyed, 70 percent agreed that owning their own home is necessary to live the American Dream, followed by 64 percent of Asian respondents and 63 percent of black respondents. Almost 60 percent of white respondents agreed.
All good, right? However, equating the American Dream with homeownership, aspiring to it, and getting it are different things.
We might describe the three barriers between dreaming the American Dream and living it, from one filtered point of view, anyway, as lots, labor, and lending.
In raw math terms, and human people pattern terms, there's reason to be optimistic. In a recent analysis sent to her clients, Ivy Zelman notes that its electric utility company customer database proxy for household formation indicates that:
"1.325 million new households were formed in 2015, the strongest of the recovery thus far and near our 1.350 million normalized estimate. While excess vacancies remain modestly above our normalized estimate, we expect this dwindling headwind and continued strong household formation underpinned by the release of young adult pent-up demand to result in a double-digit increase in new construction supply in 2016. This would represent the fifth consecutive year of double-digit growth, yet still remain 25% lower than normalized production requirements. Importantly, our data indicate that occupancy rates improved more significantly on the single-family side of the equation in 2015, supporting our thesis that underlying new construction demand will be led by homebuilders versus multi-family developers in the coming years."
Now, this is important. As jobs-growth-supported household formation builds a bigger base of demand among young adults, and young adults strive, as Zillow's data suggests, for homeownership as a function of their economic mobility, attaining the American Dream, then the next several years bodes well for single-family builders and developers.
Our own Metrostudy chief economist Brad Hunter is exploring a possible inflection point in the housing recovery, noting that lot pipeline development is finally running in excess of housing starts benchmarks on a month to month basis in a few "bullish" markets. If this holds up and widens out as a sustainable trend, it would mean that builders are beginning to play their more normal role in economic recoveries, which is to invest upfront resources in near-future demand, both to meet that demand and stimulate more.
Brad Hunter writes:
Nationwide, the pace of lot deliveries has stayed far below the pace of housing starts through this entire recovery. Lot deliveries increased by 37% over the past two years, while starts (lot absorption) rose by 23%. Even with that increase, the lot production pace has yet to catch up with the pace of home building in many markets. In the nation as a whole, lot production has just caught up with the pace of new home construction.
In some markets, we now are seeing an important new trend: the lines have crossed. The pace of lot development began leading the pace of starts in 2015 in some markets. When that happens, we know that an increased level of home construction is planned. We can then confidently forecast a higher level of housing starts in those areas.
There are several markets are showing this strongly-bullish indicator. I see it most pronounced in Austin, Southern California, Indianapolis, Las Vegas (yes, Las Vegas), Naples/Ft. Myers, and Houston.
Now, the inflection point in the real world, versus the current theoretical one, will come when builders become confident there's a solid floor of demand underlying their forward-looking investments in land. Those lot delivery pipelines are a dashboard of visibility, not just of the projected volume demand, but of builders' confidence they can access labor, materials, and processes to deliver homes profitably to meet that demand.
Wouldn't that be something, if home builders are confident enough, not only to plunk down the investment dollars to entitle and ready the home sites, but to begin the logistics work to scale up their operations by a magnitude of 15% or 20% or even 30%, with all that that means in terms of aligning labor capacity growth?
As Zillow chief economist Dr. Svenja Gudell says as part of the Zillow note mentioned above, "The American Dream is really about opportunity."
As much as that means different things to different people, opportunity is where aspiration, inspiration, and perspiration converge. If home builders do their part in stoking the flame of desire, and showing potential owners tangible, physical evidence of their goals, will policy makers and lenders do their parts.
Lenders fears--that they'll be on the hook, dollar for dollar for any loan they underwrite that may go sour--are a suppressor. They're afraid they can not afford to put failures like this on their books. The market may suggest that what they really can't afford is to remain absent from a people-driven, fundamentals based, American Dream-fueled recovery.