The very features that made houses an affordable and stable investment are coming to an end.
That may be so — but a nation of renters is not something to fear. In fact, it’s the opposite.
The numbers paint a stark picture. After peaking at 69% in 2004, the homeownership rate fell every year until 2016, when it was 64.3% — its lowest level since the Census Bureau started keeping track in 1984. The rate rebounded in Donald Trump’s presidency, hitting 66% in 2020, but that trend is likely to be arrested by a housing market that is desperately short on supply and seeing month-over-month price increases greater than they were in the frenzied market of 2006.
This process is painful, but it’s not all bad. Slowly but surely, most Americans’ single biggest asset — their home — is becoming more liquid. Call it the liquefaction of the U.S. housing market.
Even in the best markets, single-family homes have historically been an extremely illiquid asset. Appraisals have to be made on an individual basis, and mispriced homes can sit on the market for months waiting for a potential buyer — only for that buyer’s financing to fall through.
A nation of renters could lead to a world where location decisions are driven far more by personal preferences and life-cycle demands. Younger workers might prefer the excitement of the city. A couple just starting a family could reunite with their parents or siblings in a small town.
The U.S. is not quite there yet, and not just because too many people are chasing too few apartments. To see the U.S. as a nation of renters requires a revision of the American dream of homeownership. This country was always more about new frontiers than comfortable settlements, anyway.