With the first presidential debate just days away, speculation about what issues the candidates will tackle — and what zingers they'll pitch at each other — is already swirling.
While there are plenty of touchy topics for Mitt Romney and Barack Obama to trade barbs about — China, jobs, energy policy — perhaps none are as far-reaching as the morass the housing market has become. But as much as housing is a uniquely national issue, it's also all about "location, location, location," as the real estate adage goes.
This election cycle, Romney and Obama will go head to head in Denver, Colo., Long Island, and Boca Raton, Fla. — three very different metro areas with equally diverse housing market histories and futures, according to Jed Kolko, chief economist at real estate website Trulia.
Here's a look at the housing markets where Romney and Obama will do battle this fall:
Denver, Colo. The mile-high city escaped the worst of the housing market bust with prices falling only 8 percent from peak to trough, making it the 19th-best among the nation's largest metro areas. And real estate in Denver is still heating up — according to Trulia's price data, the city has the 7th fastest gains in asking prices and is the only city seeing big price increases now that didn't have home values torpedo during the bust.
While that's good news for Denver homeowners, it makes the city an unlikely site for discussion of the nation's housing woes, Kolko says.
"Obama could point out that the 2009 economic stimulus ultimately prevented a worse recession and was therefore good housing policy," he wrote in a recent post. "Romney, however, could argue that with strong economic growth, the housing market improves on its own."
Hempstead, N.Y. Of the three debate locations, Long Island (where Hempstead is located) is a good example of what's happening in much of the country when it comes to housing. During the bust, property values fell 20 percent and have since been inching up at a snail's pace.
Still, there are some standouts for Long Island. Not only does it have one of the lowest vacancy rates in the country, but there's also very little construction there, normally an odd combination, Kolko says. But similar to places like San Francisco and Los Angeles, geography and lack of developable land play a huge role in the housing market.
"Long Island is surrounded by water and restrictive regulations," Kolko notes. "The result is tight supply, which means that Long Island real estate, like that in other Northeastern and coastal California metros, is expensive."
Just the same, Long Island doesn't provide a particularly fitting backdrop for a discussion of the housing crisis either. Like Denver, Long Island wasn't as hard-hit during the bust, but it does open up the potential for discussion about the long-term affordability of housing in America's big coastal cities, Kolko adds.
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Boca Raton, Fla. Of any of the debate cities, Boca Raton, an epicenter of the housing crisis, would be the best setting to rehash the evils of the housing market boom and bust. The housing market there was eviscerated with a 48 percent price decline from peak to trough, nearly the worst decline in the country. That, coupled with Florida's slow foreclosure process, has translated into some of the highest foreclosure and vacancy rates in the country.
While prices have started to rebound, they're coming off an extremely low floor and a steady flow of foreclosures will continue to cast a shadow over the market for some time, experts say.
Boca Raton is "the perfect setting for Obama to argue that the government needs to help the housing market or for Romney to argue that Obama's efforts to help the market have failed," Kolko says.
But ironically enough, that scenario probably won't happen. While the first two presidential debates include both foreign and domestic policy, the debate in Boca is foreign policy focused, a forum at which housing issues aren't likely to surface.
Meg Handley is a reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter at @mmhandley.