Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Make the Housing Bubble Pop!

For the life of this blog, I've tried to focus on news, and on being objective. But lately it seems my objectivity is slipping away. I don't blame any one person, or group. The real estate agents are doing their jobs, earning a living. So are the mortgage brokers and the escrow companies, title companies, appraisers, inspectors, etc... I don't blame the speculators, whose actions have helped to drive up the cost of housing. They are chasing their version of the American Dream, even if it means denying the dreams of others. I blame none of them. Not Greenspan. Not Bush. Not any of the economists or journalists. No one person did this.

But, still, here I am, standing on the roof of my crap apartment building in the valley, looking across this desert of metropolitan LA, a wonderland of seemingly endless rooftops stretching from Ventura County through Los Angeles County and into Orange County, a collection of more than 70 cities in all, and none of them contains a home that belongs to me. I envy every rooftop, even the ones that cover shotgun shacks of 500 square feet. I'd settle for that to start. I'd settle for a duplex, a condo, a fixer, anything.

Every weekend we continue to visit open houses to no avail. I ask the agents questions about what's what in the neighborhood, knowing the answer is unfavorable and waiting for them to lie. And, of course, they lie most everytime, lie like experts with perfect smiles and pearly white teeth, the blood stains of their last kill wiped away. This past weekend we were at an open house in a neighborhood with streets like a maze. The Mapquest print-out looked like stereo directions: "left at 2nd, right at Pear, slight left at Cherry, right at Bloodwood, left at Ellison, right at Carlson …" It was a ranch-style home, run down in appearance, a timewarp to the '70s complete with wood paneling throughout, those old hanging swag lamps, and a backyard atop a 40-foot, unreinforced cliff that overlooked an industrial park dominated by collision shops. The pricetag? $850,000 for 1,265 square feet! On top of that, the hair-gelled, skateboarder agent had the nerve to tell us that the shops never start work before noon. It doesn't matter. We can't qualify for that hell of a house either. We make a combined income of close to $100,000 a year, and yet, we can't qualify for a 30-year-fixed loan on the median-priced home in this state.

Now is not the time to buy. I understand that. I explain it to people here, but still, we look the way some people look at garage sales weekend after weekend, thinking this will be the day we find the greatest deal of all time, a forgotten Van Gogh painting for $15, or a Ming vase for $9.

It's affecting my mood. I get increasingly irritated with the woman in her Land Rover who double parks and blocks me in so that she can run in to the Starbucks and wait for the pimple-covered Barista to jerk her a Frappacino. I honk and yell at her, not because she's inconvenienced me for a couple minutes, but because she's in a Land Rover. I tailgate the guy in the BMW who cuts in front of me on the freeway because he's in a BMW. I am using the car horn more. Perhaps of greater concern is how I'm treating wealthy people in the course of my job. Everyday I encounter them, the whining property owners at XYZ City Council hearings and lesser committee meetings, all complaining about the static they have to endure from neighbors who refuse to trim their hedges to commuters who use residential streets as thoroughfares. These whiners own homes of 3,000-plus square feet, top-of-the-line automobiles, have their kids in private schools, take European vacations every year, Christmas in Hawaii, etc... and yet, they waste the time of city leaders with this nonsense. Meanwhile, no one is doing anything about the lack of housing affordable to those earning middle and lower class incomes because no one in an elected office cares. They have homes. They don't feel the pain, at least, not until their kids grow up and can't afford to live in the community on their own.

This is not the way the American Dream is supposed to work. I don't even know what that dream is supposed to be anymore. You work your entire adult life to earn a living, climb up the salary ladder by battling your boss who keeps saying "maybe next year," stuffing all that BS down your throat about how everybody in the newsroom deserves a bigger salary, blah, blah, blah. I'm tired of that blowhard excuse.

And yet, here we go again. Today my wife schedules an appointment with the boss to go over her review, at which she plans to ask him again for a raise. It is her annual appeal. I have my review in a couple months. We'll know better where we stand after that. But after arguing about this again this morning, it's obvious that neither of us have much hope that anything will change. Our only real hope is that this bubble will pop.

— The Boy in the Big Housing Bubble