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Grantový projekt podpořen Grantovou agenturou ČR pod číslem P404/12/1446. Jedná o standardní grantový projekt s datem zahájení řešení 1.1.2012 a datem ukončení řešení 31.12.2015. Hlavním řešitelem je Ing. Mgr. Martin Lux, Ph.D.

Předmětem a cílem řešení grantového projektu je: "Definovat alternativní metody detekce nerovnováhy na trhu bydlení, a to za pomoci sociologických metod. Uplatněním nových metod přispět ke snížení rizika cenových bublin. Analyzovat trh bydlení v ČR a preference českých občanů v oblasti bydlení. Posílit kritický diskurz ve světovém výzkumu bydlení."

State of the art and literature review

The standard mathematical (econometric) models used to analyze housing markets are based on the Efficient Market Hypothesis (Fama 1970), equilibrium systems theory (Katzner 1989) and random walk hypothesis (Samuelson 1965). According to them, the prices of assets (such as residential real estate) incorporate all relevant publicly available information. Consequently, the asset prices change randomly and it is impossible to predict future prices on the basis of past price development. These theories are a natural product of the neoliberal economic paradigm modelling markets according to the assumptions that market agents (1) behave rationally with perfect information and foresight and (2) do not interact with each other.

However, as real estate property is heterogeneous and property transactions occur infrequently, the available information on the housing market is limited (Evans 1995). Moreover, excessive volatility (price bubbles) confirms that the available information is not sufficient to adjust prices. Property prices tend to be positively autocorrelated and the assumption of the efficiency of the housing market has been questioned (Malpezzi 2005; Wheaton 1999). Despite the fact that econometric models have incorporated some of these inefficiencies, such as the speculative element, into market equilibrium estimates (an example is error correction modelling), they have produced contradictory results and have failed to provide any reliable warning of housing market crashes.

The best illustration of this might be the inability of econometrics to reliably predict the last house price bubble and subsequent housing market crashes. Despite unprecedented record growth in house prices during the boom period up until 2006 (or 2007) many studies published until 2007 inclined towards the conclusion that at most markets house prices are not that far from the line determined by economic fundamentals (e.g. Girouard et al. 2006). It must be noted that at the same time and using very similar methodological approaches some scholars reached the very opposite conclusions (e.g. Baker, Rosnick 2005). The standard econometric approaches failed to reliably detect the disequilibrium in the housing markets that produced drastic consequences in the global economic crisis. Moreover, it was found that one market segment (the sub-prime market segment) may have the potential not just to generate disequilibrium across the entire national housing market, but also to threaten the stability of the national economy and in the case of the United States to threaten the stability of the entire world economy. As Schiller has pointed out (2007), the methods of mathematical economics that are used to assess the development of the housing market have lost their reliability.

The solution is to formulate the kind of theoretical and methodological approaches that will facilitate a better understanding of how (1) the preferences and expectations of actors in the housing market are formed and of how (2) complex interactions between individual actors in the housing market operate. A closer analysis of microeconomic processes that takes into account the specific features of the housing market (information shortages, social interactions) and applies sociological theories and methods for this purpose may significantly contribute to knowledge of how the markets with such a heterogeneous good as housing function.

Although the process of searching for new directions in housing market research is in the early stages, inspiration is being sought particularly in behavioural economics. Behavioural economists have drawn attention to the erroneous judgement of market actors mainly owing to cognitive barriers (e.g. Kahneman 2003) and the mutual interaction of actors (Kagel, Roth 1995). Human decision-making theories based on bounded rationality and modelling of complex interactions by Cellular Automata (Torrens 2000) have been discussed as possible routes to obtaining a better understanding of the behaviour of housing market actors.

Behavioural economics offers methods that certainly help to re-define the standard approaches of econometrics, but it ignores a substantial portion of sociological knowledge derived from the theories of social constructivism (Berger, Luckman 1966; Jacobs et al. 2004; Lux, Mikeszová 2012), symbolic interactionism (Blumer 1986), social network analysis (Wasserman, Faust 1995), and sociology of architecture (Jones 2011). Modelling used in behavioural economics thus tends to overlook significant interactions and important contextual variables, and the findings thus may not necessarily be a reliable substitute for the findings produced by standard econometrics. The aim of this project is thus to respond to the challenge to define new approaches to housing market research and research on housing market disequilibrium, and to do so by more thoroughly integrating sociological methods into research of economic processes. The use of sociological methods to study the economic processes has already been successfully applied by project applicant, namely in the fields of migration (Lux, Sunega 2012), housing tenure choice (Lux 2007; Lux, Sunega 2010) and housing supply (Lux, Sunega 2010a). An analysis of complex interactions between housing supply agents (developers, homebuilders, banks, the producers of materials) revealed, for example, important sources of inefficiencies.

Research objectives

The main objective of this project is to document the unreliability of econometric modelling in detecting housing market disequilibrium and to define alternative methods for detecting housing market disequilibrium by means of the extensive use of sociological methods in the study of economic processes. The project will focus primarily on the demand-side of the market: our objective is to look for potential instability in housing demand, which can, consequently, influence stability of whole housing market. Standard econometric approaches do not take into account the existence of social interactions and natural information barriers. Yet, it is apparent that the demand for housing, as a heterogeneous good, is influenced by social constructs (put forth by representatives of the state, the media, and the actors in the market themselves), social norms, ideologies, unrealistic expectations, symbolic patterns (housing as a symbol of social status), and especially the actual choice (purchase) of housing is the outcome of complex social interactions with reference groups comprising family members (parents), close friends (generational patterns of behaviour), experts, developers, and real estate agents. The space in which housing demand is formed can be very far from the rational model in which informed and isolated ‘homo oeconomicus’ acts, and that distance has not yet been meaningfully examined. If this distance is significant then disequilibrium in the housing market is not likely to be detected using econometric methods based on the premises of autonomy, perfect information, and rational behaviour. In that case, it is necessary also to analyse the potential instability of social constructs, norms, expectations and the changing character of social interactions.

The aim of the project is to obtain a deeper understanding of how the demand for housing is formed and deformed. Specifically, the goal is to identify the influence of (1) general social constructs, ideologies, social values and norms, and (2) typical social interactions (with the relevant reference groups mentioned above) on individual housing preferences, attitudes and expectations prior to the purchase of housing, the actual execution of a housing purchase, and the subsequent adjustment of preferences and attitudes after the purchase of housing. If the effect of certain social constructs and/or certain typical forms of social interactions on the formation of demand proves to be significant and generalizable, then the goal of the project is to come up with an alternative methodology for identifying the instability of demand and, consequently, the danger of market disequilibrium with the aid of sociological methods.

The second goal of the project, which relates to the project’s main goal, but goes beyond its scope, is to make a closer analysis of house price trends in the Czech Republic with the aid of a structural model of the Czech housing market. By analysing house price trends in a time series and in the context of the structural changes in demand and supply it is possible to uncover the specific features of the Czech housing market. The housing market in the Czech Republic has not yet been the subject of systematic research, and this deficit creates much more room for the manipulation of demand than is the case in advanced countries. There are only three studies that have analysed the Czech market so far and used standard econometric approaches to do so: present-value and error correction models (Lux, Sunega 2010b; Hlaváček, Komárek 2009; Zemčík 2011). There are three aspects in which this research can be improved.

The first issue is that none of the studies offers a theoretical structural model of the Czech housing market. Our intention is to construct such a model. The advantage of having such a model is that it allows us to explicitly study the sensitivity of house prices to a number of supply and demand factors. Second, the data employed can be extended in both time series and cross-sectional dimensions. For example, all the studies cited above address the question of the presence of a price bubble. The two additional years of data since the above-mentioned studies were conducted, which include the decline in house prices, imply that the Czech Republic has experienced a complete up-and-down cycle on the real estate market. This would generate more reliable coefficient estimates in the proposed supply-demand model. In addition, we will use two different sources of house prices: an index built from transaction prices recorded by the Czech Statistical Office (starting in 1998) and a hedonic price index built from assessed prices recorded by the bank Česká Spořitelna (starting in 2007, established and operated by the project applicant himself). The cross-sectional dimension will be increased by using data on 75 districts ('okresy' in Czech) instead of 14 regions ('kraje'). Finally, we would like to use more advanced and up-to-date panel data methods.

The third goal of the project, which is also connected to the project’s main goal, but goes beyond its scope, is to survey housing careers (migration) and the attitudes and preferences of Czech citizens in the area of housing and housing policy through a large questionnaire survey of a sample of the entire Czech population - Housing Attitudes 2013. While in many advanced countries research on the volume and quality of the housing stock (through a census or large representative survey) is accompanied by research on attitudes, plans, and preferences regarding housing (e.g. House Condition Survey in the UK, Household Demand Survey in the Netherlands, Enquete Logement in France), in the Czech Republic the census, the results of which will be fully available by 2012, is not accompanied by this important dimension of research. However, in order to make decisions about the optimal direction of the country’s housing policy it is important to know not just the current situation, but also potential development and trends as reflected in the attitudes and preferences of citizens.

Consequently, this questionnaire survey will not just serve to fulfil the main goal of the project, i.e. providing a large database for research on the mechanisms of the formation of housing preferences and the factors influencing the actual housing choice. The survey will also amplify the findings on the housing stock (‘hard data’) obtained through the 2011 census with findings about the level of housing satisfaction, attitudes towards the quality of housing, and attitudes towards the role of the state generally and towards housing policy tools particularly. The survey will include a module examining housing careers, which can have a significant influence on the formation of housing attitudes. In addition, the survey will also ascertain notions of ideal housing and the degree to which these notions are fulfilled. Respondents will also be asked about plans to move in the coming years, the reasons for the planned move, the motivations involved in the decision, barriers to moving, even in the context of labour migration.

An important fact is that the Housing Attitudes 2013 survey constitutes a follow up to the survey that was carried out under the title Housing Attitudes 2001 by the project applicant in 2001, in relation to the preceding census in 2001. Data from this survey were used to prepare a number of scientific articles published in journals with an impact factor (e.g. Kostelecký 2005) and monographs (e.g. the series of publications Housing Standards), facilitated an international comparison of housing attitudes (given that the formulation of questions was similar to surveys in France, the UK and the Netherlands), and served as a source of information for state administration (Ministry for Regional Development, Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, Office of the Government) and the private sector (savings banks, mortgage banks, professional landlords, housing developers). Publications based on data from the survey are used as teaching material at universities (Masaryk University, University of Economics, CERGE-EI). They have received a strong response from the wider public and have had significant implications for the formation of housing policy in the Czech Republic – for example, using data from this survey it was possible to demonstrate a significant influence of housing tenure on labour migration; similarly, with the help of these data it was shown that many Czech housing policy tools are not effectively targeted. The results of Housing Attitudes 2013 will also make it possible to compare how the Czech population’s housing attitudes changed between the years 2001 and 2013 and how they differ from attitudes of citizens in other advanced countries. The data will be freely available through the Sociological Data Archive.

The fourth goal of the project, which is also closely linked to the main project goal, but in particular amplifies its international scope, is to create a new open-access internet discussion platform – Housing Studies Critical. The purpose of this new platform is not to substitute a role of scientific journals or to create another journal with ambitions to join a database of scholarly journals. However, given that there is increasing pressure particularly among young housing researchers to fundamentally change current methods of housing research, and that scholarly discussion through standard published work in impacted journals is naturally delayed, this internet platform should facilitate rapid feedback on new ideas and methods from housing researchers around the world and could also serve to create international research networks. The platform would also be used to present the results of this project, but its focus would be much broader. The main goal of Housing Studies Critical is to provide missing on-line discussion space for housing researchers coming up with thoroughly new, innovative, critical and marginalized solutions in housing research and for researchers with difficult access to academic journals (authors from developing and transitional countries).

The main focus of the platform will be more precisely defined before it is launched, but in spirit it would be based on a concept that can be described as Critical & Context-Sensitive Housing Research Methodology (C&CHRM). Given that housing economics in general showed its weakness in that it was unable to predict the painful global mortgage crisis, it is striking that so few critical voices have been raised to address this issue. Another possible target of C&CHRM could be theories and research of housing systems and policies. For example, the idea that there exists a universal, economically-grounded and unilinear project of transition from the communistic legacy to the market economy and, consequently, that there are uniform targets of housing policies, has collapsed. The myth about the supremacy of homeownership was the cornerstone myth of the concept of post-socialist transition in the field of housing. This social construct has substantially lost its moral justification in view of the unintended damage the current mortgage crisis caused in many post-socialist states with the ‘super-homeownership model’. Next to its critical spirit, C&CHRM aims to formulate, apply, and disseminate context-sensitive micro-level socioeconomic methods for the assessment of housing markets, the housing systems and housing policies.

The platform will have a small international editorial board composed of renowned housing researchers and practitioners. The principles for publishing on the platform, which will be elaborated by the editorial board, will include that the paper must be recommended for publication by one member of the editorial board and that the paper may be re-published in broader format in standard academic journals. Preliminary promises of participation in the editorial board have been received from two prominent housing researchers: Professor Mark Stephens, University of Glasgow (editor of Urban Studies journal) and Professor Robert Buckley, Rockefeller Foundation, Washington, D.C. (long-term researcher for the World Bank and recently the president of the Rockefeller Foundation). The existence of the platform will be promoted through the European Network for Housing Research and other international research contacts of the project applicants. The operational costs of the platform after it is established will be low; basically they will involve the costs of one part-time administrator. If the platform gains the attention of the international research community we will try to obtain other funding to guarantee its sustainability. Financial aid has been already discussed with a representative of the Norwegian State Housing Bank.

Relevance of the project

A particular goal of the project is to make more effective use of sociological methods in the analysis of housing demand and the housing market, and thus make contributions to the knowledge on the actual foundations of the formation of housing demand and disequilibrium in the housing market. As the global economic crisis showed, the housing market has the potential to undermine the stability of the entire national economy and even the stability of the global economy. This project is thus responding to the current challenge to obtain a better understanding of how the housing market functions and to search for ways in which to avoid similar negative scenarios of development in the future. High house price volatility has negative effects on the economy, consumption and welfare of individual households. Price bubbles and subsequent price falls generate insecurity, threaten households through negative equity and hinder labour migration – yet labour flexibility is essential if advanced countries are to maintain their competitiveness. A better understanding of the causes of instability in the housing market and by extension of price volatility can help to mitigate these negative effects.

Another goal of the project is to accommodate the current need to strengthen the critical discourse in international housing research, which, owing to its inability to accurately analyse price signals in the housing market, has lost some of its legitimacy. An additional aim is to contribute to a better understanding of the specific features of the housing market in the Czech Republic, which is currently lacking, and to an understanding of the specific attitudes and preferences of Czech citizens in the area of housing, which have most certainly undergone changes since the last survey was conducted in 2001. Timing the research on the housing attitudes to a period when the census is conducted will not just help to better fulfil the main goal of the project but will serve a broad range of other functions – for instance, contributing to the formation of more effective and efficient Czech housing policy.


The sociological methods of analysing housing demand will be derived from the theories of social constructivism (Berger, Luckman 1966; Jacobs et al. 2004), symbolic interactionism (Blumer 1986), social network analysis (Wasserman, Faust 1995), sociology of architecture (Jones 2011) and urbanism (Lefebvre 1991), and possibly other sociological theories that will prove to be relevant during the course of the project’s implementation. The main methodological imperatives of the project are (1) to apply the methods of sociological research to the analysis of housing demand formation and stability, and (2) to use for this purpose the appropriate combination of quantitative and qualitative sociological methods. The main research questions are: (1) What is the effect of general social constructs, ideologies, social values and norms on the formation of individuals’ housing preferences, attitudes and expectations, and how do they influence the actual purchase of housing? (2) What social interactions (with the relevant reference groups) typically occur as part of the formation of housing preferences and the actual purchase of housing? (3) Can instability or changes to the factors behind the formation of housing demand be a source of local and eventually national market disequilibrium? (4) Can these findings be generalized to a degree where it is possible to define an alternative method for identifying the potential instability of housing demand and thus also housing market disequilibrium with the aid of sociological methods?

Quantitative research

The quantitative sociological research will draw mainly on data from the 2011 census, from the project’s own survey Housing Attitudes 2013 and from surveys conducted by the Czech Statistical Office – the Family Budget Surveys and the European Union Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC). We already have extensive time series of data from the surveys of the Czech Statistical Office and have long experience working with these data. However, given that the research questions cannot be adequately answered using secondary data, we will conduct own Housing Attitudes 2013 survey. This questionnaire survey will be conducted on a sample of approximately 1,600-1,800 respondents selected using quota sampling. The interview between respondent and interviewer will take an estimated one hour and the survey will be carried out by an agency that will be selected in a tender. Data from this survey, like the data from the other above-mentioned surveys, will be analyzed with the aim of ascertaining the main factors behind the preferences and decisions in the housing market using quantitative sociological methods: methods of linear, logit or probit regressions (logit models are often used for the analysis of discrete choice, including housing choice), factor analyses, and structural modelling. Structural modelling (under software Amos in SPSS) is especially appropriate to capture the more complex links between the factors that affect the decision-making processes and the formulation of attitudes; this method was used previously by project applicant to determine the factors behind declared housing satisfaction (Lux 2005).

Quantitative economic research on the housing market in the Czech Republic – the structural model of supply and demand – will be conducted with the help of available macroeconomic, demographic, and other relevant data and using two house price indices: the index of the Czech Statistical Office and the Česká spořitelna index. The project applicant has access to the times series data given his previous research work, the second index was established directly by the project applicant himself. Additionally, econometric research on house price trends in the Czech Republic and in the USA will be conducted, aimed at identifying the weak points in econometric analyses for determining market equilibrium. Some of the project’s team members have experience with research on house prices in the USA (see Mikhed, Zemčík 2009). The last form of quantitative research will involve behavioural modelling of complex interactions using Cellular Automata. This behavioural analysis will be conducted only in the last stage of the project and all the findings from the quantitative and qualitative sociological research will be incorporated into the modelling.

Qualitative research

Quantitative analysis of data from large surveys usually is unable to reveal significant qualitative contextual variables in the background of the formation of demand. Consequently, qualitative sociological methods (interviews, focus groups) will play an important role in the project’s methodology. The qualitative analysis, aimed mainly at identifying processes in depth, must logically limit itself to certain segments of the housing market, locations, and a specific group of respondents.

It was noted above that disequilibrium in one housing market segment has the potential to cause disequilibrium across the entire housing market. Limiting the qualitative analysis to particular segments of the market is thus in conformity with the project’s main goal. Nevertheless, it is necessary to select such market segments where there is a real danger of disequilibrium occurring as a result of the instability of demand. Two segments of the market were selected: the segment of pre-fab housing and the segment of new apartment housing development. Both of these segments are discussed as potentially ‘problem’ segments, owing mainly to the homogeneity of the architectural design, anonymousness living environments and the poor quality of the urban design.

In order to at least partially control for the effect of regional factors, the qualitative research will take place in two typologically different cities (Prague, Ostrava). Both of these cities are regional centres but within which housing affordability varies. The highest house prices, and thus the least affordable housing, are in Prague, the capital. Conversely, Ostrava is among the regional cities in which housing is more affordable, but where house prices are also quite volatile. Prague is the main economic centre, it contributes most to GDP, and it typically has low unemployment; Ostrava, by contrast, belongs to a region afflicted with high unemployment resulting from the negative impacts of the downsizing of heavy industry.

We selected young people, specifically first-time house buyers, as our target group of respondents. There are several reasons for this decision. First of all, first-time buyers form the most important component of housing demand in the Czech Republic and likely also in other countries; their preferences have large influence on the aggregate housing demand (Myers, Ryu 2008). Second, demographic data indicate that the Czech Republic ranks among the EU countries with a very low fertility rate, so the number of first-time buyers is steadily decreasing. As other studies show, this can hold very negative consequences for the housing market (Takáts 2010). Moreover, project provides a unique opportunity to understand the behaviour of the young generation that is acquiring housing in market conditions, which distinguishes it from previous generations living during communism.

Before starting the qualitative research we will collect available data on the housing market in the selected cities. Telephone surveys and face-to-face interviews will be used to question representatives of real estate agencies in order to map housing markets. House price series data for city districts will also be analysed to get basic information about local housing markets. In addition, in at least one of the selected locations a behavioural experiment will be carried out with the aim of detecting the main social constructs presented by real estate agents. In cooperation with the management of selected real estate agencies and with their agreement, real estate agents will be invited to take part in a seminar where they will be presented with photographs and plans of dwellings that fall within the selected market segments. The real estate agents will then be asked to present the strategies that they would use to appeal to clients in order to maximize their chances of making a transaction. Audio records of their strategies will be analysed, particularly with the aim of identifying the main social constructs and myths used in their sales strategies.

Respondents for the qualitative research (first-time buyers) will be recruited also in cooperation with local real estate agencies. The real estate agencies will offer young people looking to buy their first housing the opportunity to take part in the research for the remuneration. If they are willing to take part in the research they will be included in a mini-panel; other respondents may be recruited directly in the selected market segments. Given possible changes in strategies (people may decide not to buy, they may move) 20 respondents (pairs and individuals) will be recruited in each market segment, thus there will be a total of 40 respondents in each city (it is estimated that 10 respondents, i.e. 1/4 of the panel will be lost).

A qualitative study on a panel of respondents will then be carried out in two stages. The first stage of the research will focus on the influence of general social constructs (presented by the media, etc.) and of the main social interactions (the influence of reference groups) on the formation of preferences and the ultimate choice of housing, and this will be done before the purchase of housing and immediately afterwards. This stage will encompass: (1) the first in-depth interviews with respondents before they purchase housing (40 interviews in each city); (2) three to four focus groups in each city (each one comprising 10 participants), where preference will be more closely examined within group interaction; and (3) the second in-depth interviews with respondents immediately after they purchase and move into their new housing to ascertain any adjustments of their preferences and the initial attitudes. The focus group method was chosen because it is capable of revealing the psychological preferences and specific conditions that influence decisions and at the same time it allows different views and perspectives to be confronted during discussion.

The second stage of the qualitative research will comprise one round of the subsequent individual interviews with the panel respondents – approximately one year after the purchase of housing. The aim of this will be not just to identify any differences in how the respondents adapt to their conditions and any possible changes in attitudes, but also to ascertain what kind of cognitive and behavioural space the respondents have created in the environment they live in, what contacts they have in the neighbourhood, and what their preferences for the future are. All the interviews and group discussions will be recorded, transcribed, and processed using qualitative sociological research techniques.


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