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Loss Aversion and Seller Behavior: Evidence from the Housing Market

Working paper #323
David Genesove and Christopher J. Mayer

We show that loss aversion is an important feature in explaining sellers’ behavior in the housing market. Data from the 1990-97 boom-bust cycle in downtown Boston show that condominium owners subject to nominal losses 1) set higher asking prices of 25-35 percent of the difference between the expected selling price of a property and their original purchase price; 2) attain higher selling prices of 3-18 percent of that difference; and 3) exhibit a much lower hazard rate of sale than other sellers. The list price results are roughly twice as large for owner-occupants as investors, although they hold for both groups. We also show that the larger the prospective loss, the smaller the marginal mark-up of list price over expected selling. These findings are consistent with the shape of the value function in prospect theory as first proposed by Kahneman and Tversky (1979). They also help explain the strong positive correlation between aggregate prices and volume in this and other real estate markets.

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