The House Price Index 'HPI': What Is It And How Does It Work?

 By: Dom Einhorn
You may have been wondering for quite some time: the House Price Index ("HPI"), hat is it and how does it work?

What is the value of the HPI?
The HPI is a broad measure of the movement of single-family house prices. It serves as a timely, accurate indicator of house price trends at various geographic levels. It also provides housing economists with an analytical tool that is useful for estimating changes in the rates of mortgage defaults, prepayments and housing affordability in specific geographic areas. The HPI is a measure designed to capture changes in the value of single-family houses in the U.S. as a whole, in various regions and in smaller areas. The HPI is published by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) using data provided by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight (OFHEO), one of FHFA's predecessor agencies, began publishing the HPI in the fourth quarter of 1995. What transactions are covered in the HPI?

The House Price Index is based on transactions involving conforming, conventional mortgages purchased or securitized by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Only mortgage transactions on single-family properties are included. Conforming refers to a mortgage that both meets the underwriting guidelines of Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac and that does not exceed the conforming loan limit. For loans originated in 2010, the loan limit was set by Public Law 111- 88. That law, in conjunction with prior legislation, provided for loan limits up to $729,750 for one-unit properties in certain high-cost areas in the contiguous United States.

Conventional mortgages are those that are neither insured nor guaranteed by the FHA, VA, or other federal government entities. Mortgages on properties financed by government-insured loans, such as FHA or VA mortgages, are excluded from the HPI, as are properties with mortgages whose principal amount exceeds the conforming loan limit. Mortgage transactions on condominiums, cooperatives, multi-unit properties, and planned unit developments are also excluded. How is the HPI computed?

The HPI is a weighted, repeat-sales index, meaning that it measures average price changes in repeat sales or refinancing on the same properties. This information is obtained by reviewing repeat mortgage transactions on single-family properties whose mortgages have been purchased or securitized by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac since January 1975. The HPI is updated each quarter as additional mortgages are purchased or securitized by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The new mortgage acquisitions are used to identify repeat transactions for the most recent quarter and for each quarter since the first quarter of 1975.

What geographic areas are covered by the House Price Index?

The HPI includes indexes for all nine Census Divisions, the 50 states and the District of Columbia, and every Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) in the U.S., excluding Puerto Rico. OMB recognizes 366 MSAs, 11 of which are subdivided into a total of 29 Metropolitan Divisions. As noted earlier, FHFA produces indexes for the Divisions where they are available, in lieu of producing a single index for the MSA. In total, 384 indexes are released: 355 for the MSAs that do not have Metropolitan Divisions and 29 Division indexes. The starting dates for indexes differ and are determined by a minimum transaction threshold; index values are not provided for periods before at least 1,000 transactions have been accumulated.

In each release, FHFA publishes rankings and quarterly, annual, and five-year rates of changes for the MSAs and Metropolitan Divisions that have at least 15,000 transactions over the prior 10 years. In this release, 309 MSAs and Metropolitan Divisions satisfy this criterion. For the remaining areas, MSAs and Divisions, one-year and five-year rates of change are provided.

How does the HPI differ from the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price indexes?

Although both indexes employ the same fundamental repeat-valuations approach, there are a number of data and methodology differences. Among the dissimilarities:

a. The S&P/Case-Shiller indexes only use purchase prices in index calibration, while the all transactions HPI also includes refinance appraisals. FHFA's purchase-only series is restricted to purchase prices, as are the S&P/Case-Shiller indexes.

b. FHFA's valuation data are derived from conforming, conventional mortgages provided by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The S&P/Case-Shiller indexes use information obtained from county assessor and recorder offices.

c. The S&P/Case-Shiller indexes are value-weighted, meaning that price trends for more expensive homes have greater influence on estimated price changes than other homes. FHFA's index weights price trends equally for all properties.

d. The geographic coverage of the indexes differs. The S&P/Case-Shiller National Home Price Index, for example, does not have valuation data from 13 states. FHFA's U.S. index is calculated using data from all states.

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