Since the start of 2009, Dallas metropolitan area housing prices have increased 19 percent. The gain puts Dallas in the middle of the pack among the nation’s 20 largest urban areas. Phoenix leads at 55 percent, followed by Detroit at 33 percent, San Francisco at 32 percent, Los Angeles at 31 percent, and San Diego and Atlanta both at 30 percent. 

Should Dallas residents be envious? Maybe not—when volatility is considered along with price gains.

Although the future is impossible to predict, we can look to the past to see how housing markets in the country’s largest cities have fared. Using the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s quarterly index of home prices from the start of 1991 to the end of last year, we calculated the average change in each city’s housing prices, assuming owners sell after eight years. At 26 percent, Dallas ranks third from the bottom in housing price appreciation (black line on the chart).

But the Dallas market has had relatively little volatility. We reached this conclusion by looking at standard deviations, a common measure of dispersion from the average in data sets. From 1991 to 2014, roughly two-thirds of Dallas’ eight-year sales landed between gains of 16.9 percent and 35.6 percent (solid lines)—one standard deviation from the average. Going out two standard deviations finds 95.4 percent of housing transactions between gains of 7.6 percent and 44.9 percent (dotted lines). 

Houston is the only city with a narrower range than Dallas. The other metropolitan areas have seen big price swings up and down. Compared to Dallas, housing prices were at least twice as volatile in St. Louis, Seattle, Atlanta, and Chicago. Nine cities were at least three times more volatile than Dallas. Two were at least four times more volatile. Los Angeles, San Diego, and Riverside were at least five times more volatile.

Low volatility means fewer Dallas area homeowners will hit a real estate jackpot. But, at the same time, they don’t need to worry as much about getting clobbered by a housing bust.