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Grant project supported by the Czech Science Foundation, no. GA403/06/0915. Project started 1.1.2006, finished 31.12.2008. The head of the project was Martin Lux, Ph.D. The total financial support amounted CZK 2.35 mil.

The main objective of the project is determine whether there exist "transitive", institutionally and culturally specific factors behind the high prices and low financial affordability of older and new owner-occupied housing in Prague, and to estimate their influence and the possible consequences of their elimination. If they are shown to have a significant influence the project's conclusions could signify an important shift forward in the field of European research on how the housing market functions. An analysis of the causes of the high prices of housing would also contribute to increasing the transparency of the Czech housing market and could become an important source of information for those who formulate housing and social policies. The methodological approach combines elements of econometric analysis and quantitative and qualitative sociological methods. The effort to identify the causes behind the rigidity of the housing market from the perspective of value orientations.


Housing as a good has a number of specific characteristics (Lux 2002 (ed.), Lux 2002a, Lux, Sunega, Kostelecký, Čermák, Košinár 2004, Maclennan 1982), which are today recognised even by traditional, mathematically oriented economics. Among them are the following:

  • Housing is a very heterogeneous, complex, multi-dimensional good. Houses and flats differ in terms of the broad scale of varied characteristics (attributes) that provides specific housing services to consumers.
  • Housing is a long-term consumption and investment type of commodity. Even households that are not seeking to make speculative profits play a dual role in the market with owner-occupied housing: as consumers and investors.
  • Housing is the satisfaction of the human need for a home, which, on the one hand, is one of the basic human needs according to Maslow's classification (Maslow 1954), but at the same time the satisfaction of this need usually takes the biggest slice out of the family budget.
  • A significant characteristic of housing is that it is spatially fixed. Unlike most other goods housing cannot simply be "transferred" elsewhere, from one space to another.
  • The high costs of housing construction and its long duration mean that the market supply is relatively slow to respond to price signals in the short run.
  • High transaction costs are involved in a change of housing. Finding, furnishing, and moving to new housing involve considerable costs that are not directly tied to the acquisition of new housing but which can equal 5-10% of the house price (Maclennan 1982: 61).

Owing to these and other specific features there is relatively low price elasticity of supply and demand in the housing market in the short run and the income elasticity of demand is approximately unit elastic (Meen 2001, Barker 2003). This fact ultimately means that in the long term and after eliminating short-term price volatility the prices of housing generally copy the growth in real household incomes at the level of a given society's typical long-term price-to-income ratio (P/I). TheP/I indicator, i.e. the ratio of the price of a flat (average or median one of the total number of transactions in the given location and for a given year) to the disposable annual household income (average or median in the given location and for a given year), is therefore often used in making prognoses for house price developments and for analyses of market efficiency and financial affordability of owner-occupied housing (Barker 2003, Crellin 1988, Wilcox 2003, Kamath 1988, Lerman, Reeder 1987, and others). The primarily aim of the project is to determine whether there are such "transitive" (more precisely, institutionally and culturally specific) factors that are capable of contributing to the limited affordability and high prices of owner-occupied housing in Prague, specifically to the very high value of the P/I indicator for old and new owner-occupied housing in Prague, and to estimate the influence of such factors along with the potential impact of their disappearance or elimination.

Summary of the current state-of-art

In the Czech Republic the detailed measuring of the P/I indicator unfortunately does not receive the amount of attention it warrants from the perspective of estimating price trends and the affordability of home-ownership for a wider part of the population. While financial affordability of rental housing is usually measured with the aid of indicators such as rent-to-income ratio, housing expenditure-to-income ratio and residual income (Lux, Burdová 2000, Lux 2002 (ed.), Sunega 2003, Whitehead 1991, Thalmann 1999, Hui 2001, Hulchanski 1995), P/I is a crucial indicator of the affordability of owner-occupied housing for variously defined groups of the population and for different regions in the state, and thus is also an indirect indicator of dysfunctions in the local housing markets (Bogdon, Ayse 1997, Wilcox 2003, Meen 2001). Analyses of the affordability of owner-occupied housing based on the P/I indicator and conducted on the Czech Republic, e.g. by Lux ed. (2002), Sunega (2003) or the Czech Statistical Office (2005), have to date concerned mainly the financial affordability of new owner-occupied housing. There is a consensus that the financial affordability of new housing is far worse in the Czech Republic than in other advanced European countries: according to data from the Czech Statistical Office (CSO 2005) in 2003 the cost of purchasing an average flat was 8.1 times the average net annual income of the census household, while in Western European countries the cost is between 1.8 and 3.5 times the average net annual household income.

Considering the fact that the majority of transactions occur in the sector of older owner-occupied housing, it is also necessary to analyse the P/I indicator for older flats. For the purpose of this project data on real estate purchasing prices were acquired from the information that the Ministry of Finance collects from tax declarations on transfer tax. Using this price statistics and the data from the income survey Microcensus 2002 conducted by the Czech Statistical Office we carried out an analysis of P/I indicators for second hand owner-occupied housing (flats in apartment blocks) in 2002 in individual regions and for settlements of various size. Even after adjusting the data (e.g. eliminating of the highly improbable price values following from privatization sales) the analysis surprisingly revealed that contrary to the general perception the nation-wide P/I indicator is at an acceptable level: 2.59 (average value weighted by the number of inhabitants in individual regions). However, the City of Prague and the immediately surrounding area is an exception, as there the indicator reaches a value several times higher - 7.12. Another interesting finding is that at least up until the end of 2003 the discrepancy in the quality of housing clearly had less of an effect on prices in the capital city than is common in advanced countries; in other words, even less quality housing remained relatively expensive in Prague.

Growth in house prices contributes to the growth in the wealth of the real estate owners (in the form of capital appreciation). On the other hand, a disproportionate growth in prices can have many negative economic consequences (Barker 2003, 7):

  • In a situation of low price elasticity of supply it leads to the ineffective allocation of resources and the emergence of a deadweight loss;
  • If it is not compensated for by a simultaneous rise in income, housing affordability decreases for households that are entering the housing market.

The high P/I indicator and consequently the limited affordability of owner-occupied housing for new households or households just entering the market can, especially when taking into account the "blocked" situation in the as yet unreformed rental housing sector, have a considerable impact on social cohesion (Machonin et al. 2004), pro-family behaviour among young people (Hamplová 2000), household mobility and labour market flexibility (Večerník 2003). The overall macroeconomic impact of high prices is thus not just an issue of the decrease in consumption and the ensuing reduction in economic growth (Barker 2003, Meen 1995), but is also an issue of the concomitant negative effects of higher state social expenditures; a low fertility rate that threatens the pension system; and potential social and political instability.

Research Question and Aim of the Project

The basic question the project aims to address is whether the high value of the P/Iindicator for both older and new housing in Prague, which exceeds the level of the same indicator in the capital cities of many developed countries [1], is already the long-term level of the P/I indicator or whether this is just a transitional stage, influenced by the "transitional" institutional and cultural conditions in the country and in the capital city. There are methodological reasons for limiting the research to the capital city (national research would be very expensive and it is doubtful that the value of the information obtained would warrant the additional costs), and it is also justified by the extent of the problem in that location (in the capital city the level of the P/I indicator is high for both new and old owner-occupied housing). It should also be mentioned that the question of the degree of influence culturally and institutionally specific factors have on the level of the P/I indicator is also a serious theoretical problem, one that has yet to be addressed, despite the current growth of interest within economics and sociology around the world in housing research and specifically in the way the housing market functions.

The primary aim of the project is to determine whether such "transitive" (more precisely, institutionally and culturally specific) factors exist that are capable of contributing to the limited affordability and high prices of owner-occupied housing in Prague, specifically to the high value of the P/I indicator for old and new owner-occupied flats in apartment buildings in Prague, and to estimate the influence of such factors along with the potential impact of their disappearance or elimination. For the purpose of the research the econometric and both quantitative and qualitative sociological methods will be applied. If the influence of these additional specific factors on the level of the P/I indicator proves significant, the project's conclusions could mean a positive shift in the area of basic socio-economic research on the way the housing market functions. A more detailed analysis of the factors behind the high value of the P/I indicator would contribute to heightening the degree of transparency of the Czech housing market in its most dynamic national segment and could become a useful source of information for those who formulate Czech housing and social policies (in view of the above-mentioned macro-economic consequences of high housing prices).

The causes behind the high values of the P/I indicator in the case of second hand housing in Prague expectedly lie on the sides of both housing demand and supply. A number of specific factors that could have an influence on the high value of the indicator theoretically come into consideration. It may hypothetically be assumed that on the supply side the high value of the P/I indicator for older housing stems from:

  • Legislative and tax conditions that enable people to hold on to multiple residential real estate properties or facilitate the slow sale of unused real estate - i.e., the lack of a significant tax on real estate (local tax); or legislative and tax conditions directly leading to lower turnover on the market - i.e., existence of a significant transfer tax and a capital gains tax (within two years from acquiring the housing);
  • Speculation with flats on the part of foreign investors in Prague, which expect a high price appreciation from their real estate investments in transitional countries and for this purpose retain even empty flats - this leads to the growth in demand and restriction of supply;
  • State intervention in the housing market specific for the Czech Republic, especially the "first generation" rent control (Lind 2001), which is a particularly serious problem in Prague in comparison with other Czech cities, and which thanks to the exaggerated returns from market rents "motivates" potential sellers to rent out rather than sell their flats.

On the demand side the following reasons for the high P/I indicator for older housing come, for example, into consideration:

  • The large number of foreigners, migrants, and households in general in relation to the number of flats that may offer them required housing services - a housing shortage, physical lack of housing;
  • Declared incomes do not correspond to real incomes after taking into account incomes from the grey economy and the unreported incomes of foreigners;
  • The value orientations of Czech society and the traditional role of the family in providing housing for their children - many young people's housing is purchased by their parents or grandparents who are willing to sacrifice their own consumption to this end. The project will test the hypothesis of whether this phenomenon is regionally specific (more evident in Prague than in other parts of the country) and whether it is specific to Czech society in comparison with other advanced countries;
  • The extraordinarily large difference between the economic performance of Prague and other cities in the Czech Republic, which exceeds the degree of economic dominance of capital cities in other European countries;
  • The generally high psychological preference for owner-occupied housing over rental housing in Prague compared to other Czech regions or in the Czech Republic compared to other advanced European countries. The project will also try to find out the causes of such preference, such as, whether this is a consequence of more or less rational strategies of market actors or the consequence of an adaptation of the Czech people to "cultural and media" constructs used by the state and the representatives of housing supply (developers, investors) to "structure" housing demand (Bourdieu 2000);
  • Specifically Czech state interventions, again especially rent control, influencing the heightened demand for owner-occupied housing among households entering the housing market - young people choose very early on to make the move from rental to owner-occupied housing, owing, for example, to high "market" rents and almost no tenant protection in the "decontrolled" market sector;
  • The partially irrational behaviour of individuals/households when purchasing a flat, which is evinced in the unflagging interest in even poorer quality owner-occupied housing. The project will test the hypothesis of whether the Czech population predominantly considers housing as merely consumer goods or views it as a commodity representing an investment as well as consumption.

It can be expected that the causes behind the high values of the P/I indicator in the case of new housing lie primarily on the supply side, such as:

  • The increasing degree of speculative purchases of building plots;
  • Too rigid urban planning and an inadequate supply of new building sites;
  • The privileged position occupied by a small number of housing developers and the oligopolistic position occupied by several large construction firms that are capable of implementing the ideas of the developers - both of which lead to high costs, gains, and margins;
  • Inefficiencies within the construction industry, protectionism surrounding the import of cheaper construction materials;
  • Mutual inter-relations between economic and political elite during the housing policy preparation leading to potential unfair competition and, in extreme sense, to "the dictate" of the supply side of housing market (Bourdieu 2000).

The causes will be examined with the aid of a broad range of methods, described below, and the results will be published during the final year of the project in the study Housing Standards 2006-2008, presented in papers at international conferences of the European Network for Housing Research, and published in at least two articles submitted to foreign, peer-reviewed, ISI-indexed journals devoted to housing research (e.g Housing Studies, Urban Studies, and others). Publication of the results in the Housing Standards 2006-2008 connects the study to the series of three studies named Housing Standards which the housing research team at the Institute of Sociology AS CR, with project support from the Grant Agency of the Czech Republic (403/03/0417), published annually in the years 2002-2005, and which became an important source of information and study material on the housing market and housing policy in the Czech Republic for the professional community and the general public, and for representatives of interest groups, banks, developers, the housing policy makers, and the media. Presentation of the results through a new issue in a series of studies will contribute considerably to facilitating the dissemination of the results among all potential stakeholders.


However clear the goal of the project may be, achieving it requires the use of a relatively broad range of methods, encompassing econometric methodology and quantitative and qualitative sociological methodological approaches. In its focus and methodology the project is interdisciplinary and combines knowledge from the fields of sociology, economics, and partially also psychology. A methodological innovation is the effort to trace the causes that lie behind the rigidity in the market of owner-occupied housing from the perspective of value orientations and the subjective attitudes of the main actors involved on the sides of both market supply and demand. Some of the methods applied will be used for the first time in this research, and the results will be a benefit to the advancement of European research in this field.

The project's methodology will be based on a comprehensive statistical analysis of existing sets of "hard" data and attitude data and an international comparison of the results, but also, and especially, on:

  • The realisation and evaluation of a questionnaire survey among representatives of real estate agencies operating in Prague;
  • The realisation and evaluation of a questionnaire survey among landlords and tenants in the Prague sector of market rental housing, supplemented by the application of an experimental psychological procedure designed to simulate the market situation;
  • The realisation and evaluation of a questionnaire survey, direct interviews, and focus groups conducted among representatives of investors, developers, and large construction firms operating in Prague, supplemented by the qualitative analyses of history of main supply side actors; promotional activities made for their residential projects; housing policy formulation strategies; and efficiency of lobbing in the field of housing construction during the transition. For this purpose the project team intend to use some of qualitative methodological approaches used in one of the most influential sociological works on this topic nowadays - Les structures sociales de l´economie (Bourdieu 2000) - analyzing the supply side of housing market in France.


  1. Objective factors contributing to the high values of the P/I indicator (especially the issue of the housing shortage, foreign immigration, domestic migration and income from the grey economy) will be quantified with the use of available estimates and data sources from and in cooperation with the Czech Statistical Office (CSO), with continuous emphasis on the comparison with the situation in other advanced, especially European, countries and their capital cities. Preliminary agreement on cooperation has been reached with RNDr. Jiří Mrázek (head of the Department of Price Statistics at CSO) and with Ing. J. Škrabal (head of the Population Census Department at CSO).
  2. Market reactions and behavioural socio-economic impacts of both house price and rent price changes will be simulated with the aid of an econometric model based on the classic premises of rational behaviour and theory of tenure choice (e.g. Sullivan, Gibb 2003). Econometric modelling will follow earlier successful models developed and used by the project team in the past (for example, the simulation model estimating the equilibrium market rents in the Czech Republic, the conclusions from which were published in Lux, Sunega, Kostelecký, Čermák, Košinár 2004). The modelling will use data on incomes, housing expenditure, and household composition (Family Budget Survey 2003 of CSO that is already available for use by the project team) and on house prices (transaction prices recorded by the Ministry of Finance that will be provided free of charge by CSO). The results of the modelling will be compared with the findings made from the sociological surveys described bellow in more detail.
  3. The role of family assistance in purchasing housing, the psychological preference for owner-occupied housing in Prague compared to other parts of the country and in the Czech Republic on the whole compared to other advanced countries and other specific relevant housing attitudes will be, firstly, statistically analysed using data from existing Czech and foreign sociological surveys (Housing Attitudes in the Czech Republic 2001, Housing Demand Survey 2001 in the Netherlands,Enquete Logement 2002 in France, English House Condition Survey 2002 and Scottish House Condition Survey 2002 in the UK). Most of these data sets, or the main tabular output from these surveys, are already available to the research team for use and others will be acquired through international cooperation within the European Network for Housing Research. In the second stage of the research, the attitudes will be analyzed more profoundly through monitoring of the reactions of experimental game participants and via additional sociological surveys (described bellow).
  4. The hypotheses on the relation between house prices and different factors, such as the tax legislation, the rent regulation, the extensive practice of speculative purchasing by foreign investors, political interference, the lobbing of house construction firms and others will be also examined using a questionnaire survey conducted among real estate agency representatives. The questionnaire will include a question on subjective classification of all the factors influencing the level of the P/I indicator in the opinion of the agency representatives, making it possible to fill in any other relevant factors that may have been overlooked. The sample will include the largest real estate agencies in Prague (maximum 30).
  5. The impact of rent control on the behaviour of landlords and tenants (potential sellers choose to rent a housing rather than sell it and tenants opt to purchase their own housing earlier than they may prefer) and other above mentioned housing attitudes will be studied using a special questionnaire survey conducted among landlords and tenants in the sector of market rental housing. Potential tenants (people searching for rental housing through ads) and potential landlords (people offering housing through ads), who are easy to reach through current ads and who after being contacted by telephone are willing to fill in the questionnaire, will be sent a brief anonymous questionnaire along with a separate invitation to participate in an experimental game simulating the market environment. For participating in the game there will be some remuneration but it will be entirely up to them whether they indicate their interest in participating by phoning in to sign up for the game or whether they just return the completed questionnaire in a stamped envelope. The questionnaire will be sent out to approximately 400 potential tenants and 100 potential renters (for a total sample of roughly 500 respondents).
  6. An experiment to test the main conclusions from the questionnaire survey conducted among potential tenants and landlords will take the form a game, which will simulate movements, sales and negotiations over prices that reflect the current and the potential situation in the housing market. The project organisers will base the more detailed specifications in conducting the experiment on methods of behavioural economics, focusing on combining economics, an experiment, and psychology (Lopes 1994, Coleman 1986, Roth 1988, Smith 1992, Kahneman, Knetsch, Thaler 1986 etc.). Behavioural economics has long been successfully engaged in testing the veracity of classic economic assumptions, and especially testing the axiom of rational behaviour. The use of an experiment makes it possible, among other things, to test the hypothesis of whether and in what way potential owners take sufficiently into consideration the investment perspective when making decisions about purchasing owner-occupied housing. The participants in the experiment, who in the game will occupy their real positions in the housing market (landlords will play landlords, etc.), will receive a small remunerative sum for their participation in the experiment; the number of players will be a maximum of 100 and a minimum of 70.
  7. Supply-side barriers in the case of new housing will be studied through an analysis of economic indicators and using a questionnaire survey, standardised interviews and focus groups with representatives of investors, developers, and large construction firms. The participation in the project of the particular solicited groups will be facilitated with the assistance of the Association for Real Estate Market Development, which has been informed of the project. The questionnaire will be sent to approximately 50 respondents, an in-depth interview will be conducted with ten of them, and twenty of them will be invited to take part in a broader discussion of the issue in a focus group. The scale of the additional smaller qualitative surveys will be also incorporated into the study of the supply side of housing market. The methodology will encompass the qualitative analysis of promotions (commercials) and other media presentations of the Prague main housing development projects or the interviewers with housing policy makers, crucial politicians and representatives of the lobby groups to analyse the extent to which the housing demand is "manipulated" by the state or by the cooperative effort of both the economic and political elite. The attention will be paid to the strategies of "product selling" or "marketing", i.e. strategies used by developers to convince their clients about an ideal type of housing and/or an optimal type of financing. For this purpose the team intend to use qualitative methods used by Bourdieu (2000). Attention will focus primarily on:
    • objective and subjective evaluations of market risk stemming from price volatility;
    • objective and subjective evaluations of the level of locally specific risk associated with the acquisition of land plots and obtaining a building license;
    • the objective and subjective transformation of risk into margins (profits) for developers and construction firms;
    • the degree of aversion Czech investors feel towards the above-mentioned types of risks in the Czech Republic, especially:
      • the degree of outsourcing and sub-contracting and the associated efficiency of and requirements for a qualified labour force;
      • the means of financing new projects;
      • the degree of speculation in land plots;
      • the proportion of projects financed by the future owners;
      • investors' approaches to foreign financial resources;
      • the strategies for risk diversification in large residential projects.
    • the number of developers and construction firms in a particular urban market and an analysis of the strategies they use in to compete with each other and obtain a slice of the market;
    • the scale of interconnection between economic capital and political decision making, methods and efficiency of lobbing, methods used to set the crucial rules for house market operation during the transitional period;
    • the processes and methods used by the representatives of housing market supply to "create part of the demand" (Bourdieu 2000, 37), preferences and attitudes of buyers.

The large space will be devoted to the market supply analysis. This is also due to the fact that "empirical studies of supply of housing service are as scarce as studies of its demand are abundant ... It is abundantly clear that the marginal benefit from studying housing supply is much greater than the marginal benefit from studying housing demand." (Olsen 1987).

Project Timetable

The project is planned to run for three years (2006 - 2008). The main activities in the first year (2006) will be:

  • Collecting the existing data sources (CSO, international housing attitude surveys);
  • Announcing a three-year internship for a graduated applicant with a degree in economics or sociology and an interest in housing research, and the selection of the candidate to joint the project team;
  • International comparisons of the financial affordability of owner-occupied housing (using the P/I indicator) and literature review on identification of the main factors influencing the values of the P/I indicator in abroad;
  • A thorough statistical analysis of existing data sets (including the international comparison) and the creation and testing of an econometric model of the Czech house market reactions under standard economic assumptions.

The main activities in the second year of the project (2007) will be:

  • The short-term engagement of two students for a limited period to help in organising and carrying out the planned questionnaire surveys, respondent recruitment, interview transcriptions, establishment of data sets, and preparation of the experiment and the focus groups;
  • Creating the questionnaires and conducting the questionnaire surveys (among the real estate agency representatives, among potential tenants and landlords, and among representatives of investors, developers and large construction firms);
  • Carrying out the experiment simulating the housing market (second half of 2007);
  • Conducting standardised interviews and two focus groups with representatives of investors, developers and large construction firms as well as other qualitative surveys of housing supply (also second half of 2007).

The main activities in the third year of the project (2008) will be:

  • Processing and analysing data from the surveys, the experiment, the interviews, the focus groups and others;
  • A summary of the most important results into the study named Housing Standards 2006-2008, which, like previous studies in the series, will be published on the project team's website with an English summary;
  • Writing and submitting two academic papers of publication in peer-reviewed, ISI-indexed journals outside the Czech Republic.

During the project preliminary results will be presented at conferences in the Czech Republic and abroad (the European Network for Housing Research conferences). Ongoing consultations on methodology will take place with experts in housing research outside the Czech Republic (e.g. Steve Wilcox and Mark Stephens, University of York; Kenneth Gibb, University of Glasgow; Christian Donner, Austria).

Technical Facilities and Information on the Project Team

The technical facilities provided by the Institute of Sociology AS CR are fully suited to the project's requirements. Adequate computer equipment and statistical SPSS software is available for the team's use, along with the necessary copying and telecommunications facilities. The institute's financial administration is highly qualified and has many years of experience in the financial administration of domestic and foreign research grants.

The project research team is made up of two members of the Socio-Economics of Housing team at the Institute of Sociology AS CR (Ing. Mgr. Martin Lux and Ing. Petr Sunega), one member of the institute's Local and Regional Issues Department (RNDr. Tomáš Kostelecký, CSc.), and, owing to the team's limited capacity, one new researcher admitted as an intern for the purpose of work on the project's activities. In order to carry out all the planned surveys two students will be taken on in the second year of the project to assist in project administration. The team members are sufficiently qualified for successfully achieving the project's goals. Ing. Mgr. Martin Lux has been working on housing research since 1998. He applies the qualifications he acquired in the study of economics and sociology to his research work, which enables him to make use of novel and innovative techniques in researching specific problems. He has been the main coordinator of several national and international research projects, and in the past two years has been focusing primarily on econometric simulation models of the housing market. Over the past five years Ing. Petr Sunega has taken part in the research on the majority of grant projects conducted by the Socio-Economics of Housing team and was the main coordinator of his own project focusing on the affordability of rental and owner-occupied housing. His research work focuses mainly on developing simulation models for various aspects of housing policy. RNDr. Tomáš Kostelecký, CSc. has participated in numerous research projects in the field of housing, concentrating mainly on the study of regional differences in the housing market and the social consequences of how the market functions. He headed the projects "Housing Market and Its Impact on Social Inequality" (IWM Wien) and "The Housing Market, Its Regional Differences, and Social Aspects" (GA ČR). He has also published numerous articles on the subject in academic journals and in 1994 was awarded the Hlávkova Foundation prize.


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