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Are we in a bubble? Yes, no and maybe

by Chip Bell

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In Jan. 2005, Alan Reynolds, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, said that it would be “financially foolhardy” to listen to “housing bubble worrywarts.” A few months later, Jude Wanniski, a former adviser to President Ronald Reagan, authored a pieced entitled “There is No Housing Bubble!!” – note the two exclamation points. And even later in the year, Chris Mayer, a professor of real estate at Columbia Business School, and Todd Sinai, a real estate professor at the Wharton School, claimed “basic economic logic” pointed to there being no bubble – and they also compared the experts who thought otherwise to “Chicken Littles.” Those people were all well acquainted with the market and its influences, and they were all wrong.

In recent months, similar conversations about a possible bubble have cropped up around the industry. Prices are rising faster than wages, and credit is loosening up – tell-tale signs of a bubble. But it’s more complicated than that, some experts say.

“The national price gains are not super spectacular, but are nonetheless rising 3 to 4 times as fast as the national average wage growth rate…(and) over credit conditions appear to be loosening,” National Association of Realtors Chief Economist Lawrence Yun wrote in a recent article for Forbes. “However, the suggestion of a new bubble is misplaced, because three major items are left out when looking at the current housing market trends.”

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