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This city's real estate market is the least likely to tank during the next recession

MarketWatch logo MarketWatch 9/10/2019 Jacob Passy
a large body of water with a city in the background: Some housing markets haven’t seen the notable price increases that others have in recent years — and that could be a good thing when the next recessions rolls around. © Getty Images/iStockphoto Some housing markets haven’t seen the notable price increases that others have in recent years — and that could be a good thing when the next recessions rolls around.

The Federal Reserve may not be currently forecasting a recession, but sooner or later the U.S. economy’s fortunes will turn for the worse.

And when that happens, home owners in Rochester, N.Y., can rest easy.

A new study from Redfin ranked Rochester as the city least at risk of a housing downturn during the next recession. Redfin (RDFN) computed the downturn risk for the 50 largest cities across the country using the following metrics:

• Median home sale price-to-household income ratio

• Average loan-to-value ratio of homes sold in 2018

• Home price volatility based on the standard deviation of home prices year-to-year

• Share of home sales that are flips, i.e. sold twice within 12 months for a different price

• Diversity of local employment based on the likelihood that two randomly selected workers are in the same field

• Share of the local economy dependent on exports

• Share of local households headed by someone age 65 or older

Related video: Housing market responding to low interest rates, expert says (provided by CNBC)

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These factors were all weighted differently, based on how likely each attribute was to contribute to a real-estate market downturn, to produce an overall score.

Rochester had the lowest score of any city studied at 30.4%, followed by Buffalo, N.Y. (31.9%) and Hartford, Ct. (33.9%). Overall, the top 10 cities that were least likely to see a recession-fueled housing downturn were all located east of the Mississippi River.

RankMetro areaAverage home loan-to-value ratioHome price volatilityFlips share of salesExports share of GDPOverall score
1Riverside, Calif.65.3%17.9%6.3%5.6%72.8%
2Phoenix, Ariz.64.8%17.7%8.1%5.4%69.8%
3Miami, Fla.50.4%15.2%7.5%10.1%69.5%
4San Diego, Calif.65.6%16.9%5.9%8.0%68.2%
5Providence, R.I.70.6%16.8%4.4%8.6%67.1%
6Tampa, Fla.59.2%17.1%7.5%4.3%66.8%
7Las Vegas, Nev.61.0%16.7%8.3%2.4%64.6%
8Los Angeles, Calif.62.6%15.7%7.7%6.1%63.7%
9San Antonio, TexasN/A15.7%5.8%7.1%63.2%
10Orlando, Fla.61.2%16.0%6.1%2.4%59.1%

At the other end of the spectrum, Riverside, Calif., has the highest risk of a housing downturn with a score of 72.8%, followed by Phoenix (69.8%) and Miami (69.5%). Most of the high-risk cities were clustered in California and in the Sun Belt, with the exception of Providence, R.I., which ranked as the fifth riskiest city on Redfin’s list.

Read more: Investors could get a great deal on real estate in Opportunity Zones — and that could be a problem

A number of factors separates cities like Rochester from Riverside. For starters, most of the high-risk cities are located in parts of the country that were hardest hit by the Great Recession. These areas have more volatile home prices than other regions.

A few factors contribute to that volatility, according to Redfin. These markets tend to attract more home flippers looking to turn a major profit. Overall, the higher amount of investor activity in these cities drives home prices up. That forces homeowners to take out larger loans to buy property.

And so when recessions hit the local economies of these cities and cause job cuts, the larger loan amounts can represent an even more substantial burden for households that have experienced a loss of income. Many of these home owners will then default on their debt, and the resulting foreclosures will exert downward pressure on home prices across these markets.

Another factor Redfin considered was each city’s exposure to the export market. Because the upcoming recession would likely be caused by the ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China, Redin surmised, local economies that are more dependent on global trade could be affected more by the overall economy’s downturn.

The good news for all home owners across the rest of the country is that the next recession won’t be fueled by the housing market itself, unlike the last one, Redfin’s report concluded.

“Home prices are high right now, but they’re high because there’s not enough supply to meet demand, which means there’s not a bubble at risk of bursting,” Redfin chief economist Daryl Fairweather said in the report. “Most of today’s financed homeowners have excellent credit and a cushion of home equity, making them unlikely to default on their mortgage.”

The Great Recession was something of an anomaly in terms of the major impact it had on home prices. Previous recessions produced much smaller changes to home prices — in the case of the recession sparked by the dot-com bubble, home prices actually rose during that time.

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