Real Estate Doesn’t Make an Economy


From Southern California to Shanghai and London, inflated real estate prices have evolved into a simulacrum for broader prosperity. In an era of limited income gains, growing inequality, political dysfunction and fading productivity, the conjunction of low interest rates and essentially free money for the rich and well-placed has sparked the construction of often expensive, high-density residential housing.

This heady period of rapid real estate asset inflation could soon be coming to an end, followed by a potentially nasty correction in high-density, high-cost, more urban core locations. Since the 2008 crash, centered in overpriced single-family housing, density has been the new mantra, a trend largely echoed in the media, academia and among the planning professions.

The notion that dense, expensive urban real estate would dominate the future rested on two assumptions. First, it was widely explained to developers that millennials would prefer to rent small apartments for the foreseeable future, padding the profits of the investor class. Second, it was assumed that money would continue to pour into elite Western cities from the newly rich of China, Russia, Latin America and the Middle East.

Today, both trends are diminishing. Millennials are getting older, and by 2018 more will be in their 30s — when most people seek out single-family homes — than in their 20s. We are already reaching “peak urban millennials,” as University of Southern California demographer Dowell Myers suggests, while the replacement generation, known as the “Z” or “plurals,” will be somewhat less numerous.

At the same time, high-end residential investors from the once booming BRICS countries — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — are, with the exception of India, now experiencing slower or negative growth. They are likely to be a far less reliable source of funds for high-end luxury housing.

Read the entire piece at the Orange County Register.

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of He is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book, The Human City: Urbanism for the rest of us, will be published in April by Agate. He is also author of The New Class ConflictThe City: A Global History, and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He lives in Orange County, CA.

Photo by Mark Lyon -- Full Floor For Rent.