The mismatch tells the story of the recovery to date. It defies logic, and it boils down to a single stark reality. The mismatch is between those who would and could be home buyers if home prices and housing finance were normal, and the current availability of homes and housing finance programs that are out of their reach.
That's a broad brush stroke. There are examples and exceptions. But, still, right up through the end of 2015, housing's recovery--for all that it has achieved in its early phases to kickstart action among mostly discretionary buyers--has left the need among non-discretionary, would-be buyers largely unmet. That's the mismatch.
This year may begin to change that, as more new home communities open offering homes priced at more attainable levels, and housing finance programs gradually admitting more kinds of borrowers into the mortgage system.
Still, when you load up a home site--even a relatively small one--with local (county, state, and national) fees, time-warping delays, and other encumbrances that snuff out development of a lower priced home, it means that the homes that sell and the homes that will be developed will be bigger, higher priced homes.
There's hardly any way to get around that.
Put another way, if local municipalities want more young people, potentially people who'd have young children, and communities infused with fresh new households and families, then they--the local planners, regulators, agencies, officials, and citizen-advocates opposing all development--would look in the mirror as the reason it's not happening.
Here, on the Calculated Risk blog, housing expert Thomas Lawler takes a telling look at home size data from the Census Bureau. It may be hard to detect Tom's point from the graphic above, which he phrases this way:
While single-family housing production has continued to recover, the overall level of production – in terms of units – has been well short of consensus forecasts from a few years ago. In looking at the production “shortfall,” the one thing that is striking is that production of moderately sized homes has barely recovered from the cyclical lows, while production of big homes (3000+ square feet) has been running at a higher pace that in all but one year of the 1990’s.
This is what we mean by "the mismatch." While the graphic above may not make it clear, look at the way Lawler charts it here:
Now, no doubt, preference trends among home buyers of many stripes tend toward more space, more square footage over less.
But, what this data exposes, perhaps more than anything else, is America's and American tax payers' and voters' profound ambivalence when it comes to sustaining an open arms, warm and welcoming view toward the American Dream.
When it's so difficult to make a go of buying a home site and building a home on it that's affordably priced to a hard-working young household, it lays bare that ambivalence. Builders and developers come up it every day, every evening at the planning and zoning board meetings they work through.
We'd hope that when Lawler does his analysis on Census Bureau square footage data this time next year or in 2018, we'd start to see more homes "moderately sized," because that will reflect a mix shift to more attainably priced ones beginning to meet an as yet unmet need.