Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A coherent account of the Housing Boom/Bust

This is tangental to my blog, no doubt, but the state of the housing industry is relevant to our interest in the resurgence of modernism as a housing product. If you have money to build or are able to borrow in this credit climate, its actually a good time to build. And that's an opportunity for modernist to get a foot in the door, for developers flat out of luck its a market that still has demand. So read up, or listen up as the case may be, and learn what actually went down in the credit bust. This radio program "This American Life" just did a review of the recent history of the ongoing credit crisis, and the housing crisis it spawned, and the overall stinky economy following on its heels. This is the best plain language, easily understandable account of what has transpired that I have heard to date. It was put together by a pair of reporters, one a financial correspondent for NPR, and the other a regular from This American Life. So it puts together accurate financial reporting with a human outlook and good story telling. If you think "yeah, I know there is a credit crisis but I don't really know what just happened" then this is a worthwhile listen. It puts it in very human terms as well - via the experience of a lot of people who participated in it. I'd really love to blame somebody. Sure there was greed in there, but not nearly as much greed as sheer stupidity. You know, its like those C students I went to high school with, the ones that were not nearly as smart or responsible as me, but today make so much more money than I ever did or ever will. Its like these are the ones we leave our economy to. And they'll put it into a tree on a joy ride as readily as they did with their dad's Old's Cutlass back in high school. http://www.thislife.org/Radio_Episode.aspx?episode=355 These podcasts are only available as a free download for a week, starting this past sunday. So get it now or pay later.

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  1. Since I posted this morning I see this same podcast recommended by Kevin Kelly of Wired Magazine here:


    and also later in the day picked up at boingboing.net


  2. I listened to this program as well (TAL is one of my very favorite shows). What's incredible to me is that, to a very large part, everyone involved throughout the entire chain knew what they were doing and knew it was wrong. And everyone did it anyway because 'everyone was doing it.'

    I recall feeling a bit like a chump when I kept refinancing my home and sticking to 30 year fixed loans. The only crazy thing I did was to roll the refi fees back into my principle, and so since I was refinancing every two years to get my payment down my actual principle didn't change much and I didn't get very far towards paying off the house (not as far as I should have).

    As I said I've lived in my house ten years. I bought it new, a nice spec house in a very very good neighborhood. I paid $250k for it, which even in 1998 seemed a bit like a steal because the house is well built, schools are fantastic, I have 30 foot oak trees in the yard, etc. Houses in my neighborhood sold like greased lightning and were appreciating very, very quickly.

    My next door neighbor bought his house from the same builder and moved in on the same day we moved into ours. Other than having a three car garage (ours is two) the houses are very similar and trimmed to the same level. He also paid $250k.

    Fast forward to 2006. My neighbor is moved by his company. He is upset to have to settle for a relocation buyout price of $340k. We all thought that a year or two earlier the house would've sold for closer to $400k. Turns out that was the luckiest thing that ever happened to him. After he took the buyout and moved out the house was listed on the open market for $340k, and nobody even looked at it. For a full year we saw maybe five people go through the house (I should mention - the house is pristine, as if it is still new, because my friend was a huge neat freak).

    The realtor finally started dropping the price. Still nobody came. After several months the price finally hit $290k, still no lookers, and then last February it was slashed to $249k - now less than what my friend paid for it almost ten years earlier. It finally sold for $235k.

    Now, I know it was a relo and they wanted to dump it, but can you believe that a house bought for a mere $250k ten years ago, in a perfect location, in perfect condition, with all the right amenities, is actually worth less than it was bought for? That's how bad it is here in suburban Detroit.

    For me, the worst thing is that I'll very soon be ready to build a new house, I have the money now to buy land and afford a more expensive home payment (if need be, though I won't really build more than what I have now, just something different) but I don't see any way I can sell the one I have. I still owe $190 something on it. I'd have to list it now on the hope of selling it in two years for a song.

    It's not just lenders who went belly up, or people who made bad choices and ended up losing their homes, that got hurt. EVERYONE is getting hurt by this. I'm disappointed because I didn't really do anything wrong or dumb. I was very conservative in my home purchase. I could have afforded a bigger house, but I bought 2200 sq ft. I was conservative in my loan choices. I kept to a 30 yr fixed, I just refinanced smartly to get my monthly payment down (because my wife left her $55k/yr job to be a stay at home mom and we were suddenly a one income family with extra expenses). And yet for all practical purposes I am somewhat upside down on the house. I feel really bad for the people who did buy the 3500 sq ft houses and stretch to far on their loans because they must genuinely be upside down by hundreds of thousands of dollars. Regular people with good jobs. They can afford what they have, but they can't afford to sell it. Probably not for the next ten years.

    I am sure we will build our modern dream house someday soon. But we definitely have to wait at least a couple of years more to do it. My big hope is that I can now find land a good bit cheaper. Of course, financing is a lot harder to get now, which won't help. We'll see what happens.

    What a mess. Sorry for the rambling comment, but the meltdown really blows my mind.

  3. I know, it is just astounding. Do we really have to share the same economy with these people?