Report User Guide – MSA Report

Alpha Real Estate Partners’ research reports are designed to give you an intuitive and easy to use tool for understanding the economic realities affecting a particular housing market – allowing you to make better decisions through better data.

General Concepts

Each report is organized around a “metropolitan statistical area” (MSA) – an urban area defined by the federal government which is used to organize data. To provide a context within which a given MSA should be evaluated it is important to understand the geographic terms used in the reports. Where data is available, each MSA is compared to the counties and states which it spans. Some larger MSAs will be sub-divided into smaller areas known as ‘divisions’.


Each report starts with the ‘snapshot’, a quick way for you see if the local economy and housing markets are improving. For example, an up arrow next to ‘economy’ indicates that employment improved over the previous 12 months. Similarly, the down arrow indicates worsening, and the right arrow indicates no change.

Nationwide Ranges

In several sections of the report you will find the blue-and-red ‘nationwide range’ indicator. You can use this indicator to quickly see how a particular MSA compares to all other MSAs in the country.

Economic Data
Unemployment and Labor Force

Each report begins with the MSA’s latest unemployment rate (not seasonally adjusted). This is followed by the unemployment chart which shows 12 months of history for the local market. The monthly unemployment rate (not seasonally adjusted) is shown for the metro area (when available), the relevant state(s) and the nation. Note that the publication of local unemployment data may lag the publication of the national unemployment rate by several months. Another chart is included to show the history of the local labor force.

After the unemployment data comes a table showing the top 5 employment sectors in the MSA, ranked by employee count. Below the employment sector table is a map showing the metro area and nearby counties. Each county is colored to show its relative unemployment rate, with red indicating counties with the highest unemployment and the lowest in green. Counties falling within the MSA are highlighted with a thick border.

The earning power of the average worker is shown as well. Government statistics provide the average hourly earnings of all employees along with the average weekly work-hours of all employees. From this data, median weekly and annual earnings are determined. This data is charted for the prior several years and is compared to the inflation rate as well.

Data sources: US Bureau of Labor Statistics, State and Area Employment, Hours and Earnings; BLS Local Area Unemployment; BLS National Unemployment

Demographic Data

The population chart shows the change in population over the previous ten available years of data. Data is shown for the metro area (when available), the relevant state(s) and the nation.

In addition to this chart there is a map showing the population growth rates in the counties near the metro area. Counties with the lowest growth are shown in red, those with the highest are in green. Counties falling within the MSA are highlighted with a thick border. Note that population data is from intercensal estimates and will differ from, and may show significant year-to-year changes from, decenial census data.

Below the population data you will find a table showing the median age of the MSA’s population compared with the age of the relevant state(s) and country. Another table is included to show the highest level of education for the MSA’s population and those of the relevant state(s) and country.

Data source: US Census Bureau Population Estimates

Housing Data
Building Permits

The two building permit charts show quarterly residential building permit approvals for the local area going back three years. The first chart shows the number of approved units for single family (i.e. 1-4 unit) and multifamily dwellings. A polynomial regression line is added to assist in discerning the overall trend. The second chart shows the value of the approved units over the same time period.

Note that building permits are not the same as housing starts or completions. In general, the Census Bureau believes there are 2.5% more single family starts than permits, and 22.5% fewer multifamily starts than permits.

Data source: Census Bureau Building Permits Survey

Fair-Market Rent

The FMR chart shows the previous 10 years of fair-market rents for five apartment sizes (studio to 4 bedroom) in the local area. ‘Fair market rent’ is a gross rent estimate prepared by HUD. It includes the shelter rent plus the cost of all tenant-paid utilities, except telephone, TV, and internet service.

Data source: Department of Housing and Urban Development Fair Market Rents

Housing Prices

The housing price chart shows the quarterly change in the housing price index over the previous five years. Data is shown for the metro area (when available), metro divisions (when available), the relevant state(s) and the nation.

Data source: Federal Housing Finance Agency All Transactions Index, Not Seasonally Adjusted


The affordability chart compares the relative expense of renting vs. owning a home for the average wage earner over the previous five years.

The mortgage burden is calculated by rolling forward the median single family house price using the above HPI. The monthly principal and interest payment for the purchase of such a home using an 80% LTV mortgage at the prevailing 30 year mortgage rate is then divided by the above monthly income. (Note that the impact of taxes, insurance and utilities is not captured.) The rent burden is derived by dividing the fair market rent by average monthly income as calculated above.

Data sources: Census Bureau American Community Survey; Freddie Mac Primary Mortgage Market Survey

Macro Indicators
Three national-level charts are provided to assist in understanding what’s happening in the broader US economy.
  1. Key interest rates: 10-year US Treasury yield and 30-year residential mortgages for the previous 5 years.
    Data sources: 10-year US Treasury Constant Maturity Yields; Freddie Mac Primary Mortgage Market Survey
  2. Inflation: the consumer price index, core CPI (CPI excluding food and fuel) and the CPI of rent for the previous 5 years.
    Data source: Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index series CUSR0000SA0, CUSR0000SA0L1E and CUSR0000SAS2RS
  3. GDP: % change in GDP from the previous quarter for the previous 5 years. Areas in green indicate growth; red indicates recession.
    Data source: Bureau of Economic Analysis

  4. Geography

    The geography section is provided to illustrate the size and location of the MSA. After listing all the counties the MSA intersects is a map of the MSA. The map shows the borders of the MSA, within its related state(s). Each nearby county is drawn in gray and the state border is shown in black; the MSA is drawn in red. Local interstate highways are drawn in blue and major highways are shown in green.

    Opening the Files

    The PDF requires Adobe Acrobat; you may download a free reader from Adobe.

    The Excel files requires Microsoft Excel 2007, or newer. If you have an older version of Excel you can try the free converter from Microsoft.

September 3, 2016