THE OTHER day, I was reading a blog entry about housing prices and interest rates on the website of The Economist magazine. The data on which the blog was based included a long (20+ years) history of housing prices in the UK and the US. In the US, for example, the house price index with a base of 100 in 1988 had risen to a peak of about 320 in 2006 and is now down to about 220. In the UK, a similar index started at 100 in 1995, hit about 370 in 2007 but is down only to 320 yet. The post went on to examine why US housing prices have crashed so much more than the UK.
In India, no matter how much you want to, you cannot do any analysis like this because the data does not exist. Despite the centrality of real estate prices in the economy, as well as in the lives of people, these are an almost completely opaque part of the Indian economy. This is all the more galling because with financial savings less developed than the western countries, real estate (along with gold) is a much bigger part of people’s savings.
Whether you are a researcher who needs a couple of decades worth of broad data, or an individual who needs a price map of a particular kind of unit across an area, you are pretty much on your own. This lack of quality information has huge consequences. In any kind of exchange, it skews the advantage towards the larger and more organised side. As an individual, whether you are buying or selling, you’ll start with a scramble for information and will eventually have to make do with whatever is handed to you by people who are on the opposite side.
While the broader picture might eventually become clearer when the National Housing Bank’s Residex index builds up a long enough history, individuals will probably be faced with an information disadvantage unless someone has some ideas about filling this gap.