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Essays on the Housing Market and Home Prices


This dissertation consists of three chapters that concern the housing market and home prices. The first chapter analyzes why foreclosures were more prevalent than short sales despite the advantages that short sales offered. The Great Recession led to widespread mortgage defaults, with borrowers resorting to both foreclosures and short sales to resolve their defaults. I first quantify the economic impact of foreclosures relative to short sales by comparing the home price implications of both. After accounting for omitted variable bias, I find that homes selling as a short sale transact at 8.5% higher prices on average than those that sell after foreclosure. Short sales also exert smaller negative externalities than foreclosures, with one short sale decreasing nearby property values by one percentage point less than a foreclosure. So why weren't short sales more prevalent? These home-price benefits did not increase the prevalence of short sales because free rents during foreclosures caused more borrowers to select foreclosures, even though higher advances led servicers to prefer more short sales. In states with longer foreclosure timelines, the benefits from foreclosures increased for borrowers, so short sales were less utilized. I find that one standard deviation increase in the average length of the foreclosure process decreased the short sale share by 0.35-0.45 standard deviation. My results suggest that policies that increase the relative attractiveness of short sales could help stabilize distressed housing markets.

The second chapter analyzes how the housing market captures the efficiency of public goods. This chapter is co-authored with David Schönholzer. In the U.S., 36 million people live in unincorporated communities without separate municipal government, instead receiving limited local public goods by counties and special districts. This paper formalizes and empirically quantifies the extent of sorting induced by this arrangement of local governance. Based on predictions of a Tiebout model with heterogeneous income and preferences, we document the effect of municipal governance on housing supply, house prices, land prices, and public goods. We use a boundary discontinuity design and an event study design with administrative data from all boundary changes of 189 Californian cities, combined with the universe of individual property sales over the years 1988-2013. We find considerable sorting induced by municipal boundaries and their changes: sales prices are around $6,000 higher in municipalities and land values are 20% higher. Both housing supply and land values increase substantially after annexation. Changes in per capita expenditures and increases in the quality of police services provide suggestive evidence for public goods as the key mechanism for sorting.

The third chapter analyzes the effects of real estate investments by foreign Chinese on local economies in the United States. This chapter is co-authored with Zhimin Li and Leslie Sheng Shen. Starting in 2007, the U.S. witnessed an unprecedented surge in housing purchases by foreign Chinese. We exploit cross-local-area variation in the concentration of Chinese population stemming from pre-sample period differences in Chinese population settlement to identify the economic effects of these investments. Using detailed transaction-level housing purchase data, we find housing investment by foreigners induces higher local area housing net wealth, leading to higher local employment in the non-tradable sectors. Our results suggest the improvement in household balance sheet resulting from capital inflow for housing investment in the U.S. played a mitigating role for the domestic economy during the Great Recession. Based on our empirical findings, we develop a framework that incorporates the housing net worth channel for interpreting the empirical estimates. Our evidence highlight the role of capital inflow and foreign investments on the domestic output and employment, especially in times of economic downturns.

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