Blog reader Zerodown provided a link to this Economist article, which shows a graph of changes in US house prices back to 1920. 2008's 14.1% drop in the first quarter is far below any other drop back to 1920. It's hard to make comparisons with history if one only goes back that far, so perhaps one could try the Panic of 1837:
Suggesting that banks were carelessly lending and creating a credit boom would imply a large drop in reserve rates. During the early 1830s the average reserve rates of banks were not decreasing, but remained relatively stable. During this time, the money supply was increasing (approx. 200%) despite the stable reserve rates of banks. This increase in the supply of money did not come from within the United States, but resulted from a positive specie inflow from foreign investors. British investors found it increasingly attractive to lend to the state governments in the United States in the 1830s.THE PANIC OF 1837 BY: EDWARD M. SHEPARD from Shepard, Life of Martin Van Buren (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin Company. 1888), copyright expired):
The American people with one consent gave themselves to an amazing extravagance of land speculation. The Eden which Martin Chuzzlewit saw in later material decay was to be found in the new country on almost every stream to the east of the Mississippi, and on many streams west of it, where flatboats could be floated. Frauds there doubtless were; but they were incidental to the honest delusion of intelligent men inspired by the most extraordinary growth the world had seen. The often quoted illustration of Mobile, the valuation of whose real estate rose from $1,294,810 in 1831, to $27,482,961, in 1837, to sink again in 1846 to $8,638,250, not unfairly tells the story. In Pensacola, lots which to-day are worth $50 each, were sold for as much as lots on Fifth Avenue, in New York, which to-day are worth $100,000 apiece. Real estate in the latter city was assessed in 1836 at more than it was in the greatly larger and richer city of fifteen years later.