Thursday, March 23, 2006

Suckers, Patsys, and Friars

Here is a real howler. Via The Real Deal, comes this article in the New York Observer's real estate section.

The article states:
The Landmarks Preservation Commission's Web site recently posted a study by the Independent Budget Office that analyzed residential property values in the city's various historic districts. The report is not new--it's dated 2003--but its conclusions seem to back up preservationists' claims that historic districts increase property values.
Oh they do, don't they?

On face value, this is supposed to be a positive phenomenon, showing that wowwee, government planning actually works!

The question remains, do rising values necessarily imply a positive outlook on the housing market?* Has that truly been beneficial to everyone? Could it be possible that it's beneficial only to a select few, those who already are comfortable in their purchased homes?

Alas, that question is never answered, but worse so, it is never even asked.

Coincidentally, just last week, I fired off an email to a dear Austriomentor™, asking him:
If a home or business is designated a landmark, the owner suffers a reduction in property value, both for their personal use and when the owner attempts to sell, it will fetch lower prices since there isn't much use the next owner can expect to get out of it. At the same time though, since there is an intervention causing artificial scarcity of land uses, it will drive up the price of housing/business for everybody in the market.
In hindsight it's not such an intellectual obstacle to overcome in this perhaps seemingly counterintuitive example, and shortly after I sent the email, I was kicking myself in the pants for not being thoroughly convinced of its truth sooner.

While I'm tempted now to reword that question, I think the point comes through clearly.

Anyway, I fired off a quick rebuttal on the NYO's blog, mocking them for being the Landmark Commissions patsy:
Well duh! If government intervenes in the market and restricts supply, ceteris paribus, prices will rise! (zoning, landmarking, and other land usage restrictions place artificial and arbitrary constraints on supply)

It doesn't require any empirical research to prove this a priori fact.

Secondly, and less well understood is the fact that the affected property owners suffer unquantifiable losses when restrictions are placed on their property. For example, they might have wanted to add a penthouse on their roof, or changed what they think is an ugly facade. This is even before you tack on the costs of compliance with the property owners having to go through yet another layer of bureaucracy to make alterations to property they own in a nominally 'free' country.

*I'm now thinking that this whole confusion only begins because some people can't distinguish between prices and values. Costs, for that matter too.

**Friar is Israeli slang for biatch when used in the sense of "sucker"

No comments: