Three Essays on Real Estate, Finance and Planning: Homebuilding, Life Insurer Lending, and Retail in an Age of Financialization

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THREE ESSAYS ON REAL ESTATE, FINANCE AND PLANNING: HOMEBUILDING, LIFE INSURER LENDING, AND RETAIL IN AN AGE OF FINANCIALIZATION Peter Wissoker Cornell University 2018 Too often planners neglect the importance of understanding the real estate industries, including real estate finance and investment. In this dissertation I examine how changes in the financial sector over the past thirty years reconfigured urban and suburban development. I take three different approaches to these issues. The first paper describes the role of large financial firms in the rapid growth of local and regional homebuilding companies during the 1990s, a period during which a handful of homebuilders became increasingly national in scale and captured a significant share of large, fast-growing markets in cities like Las Vegas and Phoenix during the 2000s. Among my conclusions, I suggest that homebuilders may have overbuilt in the mid-2000s to meet the annual growth targets of their stock analysts rather than the needs of subprime mortgage packagers. The essay also offers an argument that housing economists should consider firm and local market structure when studying housing supply and housing bubbles. The second paper is a case study of the real estate investments of U.S. life insurance companies, who for much of the twentieth century wrote one-third of the mortgages that financed the building of suburban malls, office buildings, apartments, etc., in the United States. I trace how firms began to lose market share in the 1970s and 1980s as pension rules and savings habits changed, and show how these factors led to changes in life insurance products, which, in turn, required different investment choices and a loosening of lending standards for large properties. My third paper argues that planners should understand commercial (non-single-family-residential) properties in the suburbs as embedded in a series of local, regional, and global networks tied to both real estate and the specific networks of the tenants, and offers a set of questions for planners to ask to help ascertain the intentions of owners and developers. The paper uses the example of suburban properties in the retail sector as an example. These three essays are based on large financial databases, trade periodicals, analyst reports, and archival research, and draw on the literatures from planning, geography, business history, economics and sociology. A conclusion discusses some of the implications of the research for planners.

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Construction; Financialization; Homebuilding; Real Estate; Retail; Sociology; Geography; Insurance; Urban planning


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Goldsmith, William W.

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Tennyson, Sharon
Campanella, Thomas J.

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City and Regional Planning

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Ph. D., City and Regional Planning

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Doctor of Philosophy

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dissertation or thesis

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