House Price Dispersion in Boom-Bust Cycles: Evidence from Tokyo



We investigate the cross-sectional distribution of house prices in the Greater Tokyo Area for the period 1986 to 2009. We find that size-adjusted house prices follow a lognormal distribution except for the period of the housing bubble and its collapse in Tokyo, for which the price distribution has a substantially heavier upper tail than that of a lognormal distribution. We also find that, during the bubble era, sharp price movements were concentrated in particular areas, and this spatial heterogeneity is the source of the fat upper tail. These findings suggest that, during a bubble, prices increase markedly for certain properties but to a much lesser extent for other properties, leading to an increase in price inequality across properties. In other words, the defining property of real estate bubbles is not the rapid price hike itself but an increase in price dispersion. We argue that the shape of cross-sectional house price distributions may contain information useful for the detection of housing bubbles.