The blog of the Urban Institute
December 2, 2019

Comparing State Housing Markets through Customizable Data Visualization

The US housing market reached a historic $29.1 trillion high this year, while the household sector's debt service ratio (the ratio of total required household debt payments to total disposable income) is at a 39-year low. However, looking only at national housing trends can mask differences across states.

Each state’s housing prices are affected by factors like the age and income of the local population, economic conditions within cities, tax benefits for housing assistance, and zoning laws. Thus, navigating a state’s policy debates requires context and context requires data—ideally, data we can quickly find, visualize, and understand.

In service of that goal, the State and Local Finance Initiative offers the State Economic Monitor, an interactive tool that helps users find, visualize, and share timely state economic data.

Below, we use the State Economic Monitor to tell the story of how the housing bubble, the housing market collapse, and the eventual recovery affected two very different states, California and Texas, and why this data still plays an important role in understanding current policy debates.

California’s roller coaster vs. Texas’s merry-go-round

Like many states, house prices in California experienced a bubble and crash that fanned the flames of the Great Recession, but its highs were particularly high and its lows were particularly low. The state’s house prices climbed steeply in the early 2000s. In 2004, house prices were 26 percent higher than they had been in the year prior. Soon after, the rate of growth began to slow, and then prices began took a nosedive around the beginning of the recession in 2007.

By the third quarter of 2008, California’s house prices were down 28 percent compared to the year prior—far lower than the US average. But five years later, the state’s housing market had rebounded, with house prices up 21 percent over the year in 2013—again, far above the national average.

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(See the interactive chart here.)

Meanwhile in Texas, house prices were far more stable throughout the entire period—never seeing a year-over-year decrease of more than 2.5 percent.

Over the last five years, the housing markets in both California and Texas have been relatively stable, with modest, consistent annual growth. Most recently, in the third quarter of 2019, house prices in both states increased more than 4 percent over the year.

Comparing the two states over time can help users visualize just how differently their housing markets experienced the pressures of the Great Recession. California was more directly impacted by housing market speculation, which magnified the boom and led to greater price drops during the bust, while Texas remained relatively free of turbulence.

How comparative data can elevate policy debates

While we’re more than a decade removed from the housing crash, affordable housing and the changing nature of homeownership remain important issues for legislators and advocates. But policies to improve housing security are not easily applicable across states, and what may work in Texas may not necessarily work in California.

 Using comparative data, we can use trends in state house prices to inform policy debates as we contend with long-term housing affordability issues and prepare for the next recession.

The new and improved State Economic Monitor is designed to help users track, visualize, and share trends in housing, along with other data including state-level employment, earnings, and GDP. With 50 states plus the District of Columbia, 10 datasets, and some data going back to 1977, there’s plenty to explore. "Highlight cards" at the top of the page offer the most interesting recent trends, and downloadable charts allow users to share their personalized findings.

We hope this interactive tool will help residents and community leaders better understand their states, and we look forward to the stories you choose to tell.

Photo by Westend61/Getty Images.

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