It’s not déjà vu if it’s all happened before. Slow-motion train wrecks are still train wrecks. Soft landings are a myth airline passengers comfort themselves with. Those who come late to a party are still at the party at closing time. It doesn’t take a psychic to predict the ending when watching a re-run.
I’ve stopped looking for a house to buy where I live. I’ve mostly stopped scrolling through house-shopping websites. So long as people are listing houses in my neighborhood for impossible-dream prices and there are still greater fools out there with borrowing capacity to buy them, what’s the point?
The last crumbs of nothing are snapped up by investment groups of local realtors to be flipped. Everyone I’ve talked is clicking their heels and shouting “always up” very loud with their eyes closed.
Through my former profession, I’ve developed a knack for communicating with those who live in alternate realities. But I’ve made it a habit not to go live there with them.
Those up to their elbows in pie, grabbing for cherries, become quite irritable when I point out the housing market bubble. Everyone in the Land of Oz wears green-colored glasses. I can either grab a pair and join the rave or go away.
But I’ve never developed a stomach for the fizz of gambling among a folie à ten-thousand. So I wandered off to consider other life options at a safer distance. If my husband hadn’t landed this impossible job of his he loves so much, we’d be gone from this house-of-cards by now.
Last night, on impulse, I strolled through a real estate shopping web site. I saw that there are many more homes for sale in the area than there have been. Many have been languishing on the market for months.
When we first moved here, there was only one house listed for $300,000 in the county. There was nothing cheaper. And this one offering had been a homeless camp and was uninhabitable. From time to time, there’s a been a cabin in the woods behind town for under a half-million. But the rest of the houses offered for sale have been much more expensive. These have moved quickly into investment portfolios. Our neighborhood is sprinkled with expensive homes where no one lives. But last night I found several cabins in the woods listed for $250,000.
Last spring, we’d looked at an “as-is” first floor condo nearby for $315,000. We were told to hurry and make our best offer as the agent was collecting offers to consider. But we walked away after discovering financial management issues in the condo association. Last night I found its twin condo has gone pending after two months for $200,000.
The inventory of over-priced house trailers in parks which are now without rent control (up to $2500 a month) are accumulating.
The real estate market is still quite over-valued but free fall is well in progress.
I watched this whole greed-n-bust cycle play out in Seaside Oregon between 2006 and 2012. Back in 2006, I wanted a bigger home there. But people had become infected with this same old greed insanity. In a small town with nothing beyond seasonal tourism to support its economy, a real estate bubble blossomed, turned evil and swallowed the town.
Overnight, everyone became a realtor. Every house and apartment became a quintessential beach house with upside potential and a peak of the ocean from the toilet or the roof. Everyone who could, booted out their renters and made their complexes into expensive condos with granite counter tops and stainless steel appliances.
Heavy equipment roared on the hills behind town. Those bulldozers were carving out high-end subdivisions for mythical rich high-tech workers from across the mountains who were all supposed to want a dear little beach cottage to retire to. Rivers, their watersheds thus destroyed, flooded roads and lower-lying homes with debris during storms.
This greed insanity turned ordinary housing for ordinary working folks into an impossibility. There was a protest in the downtown streets by locals who couldn’t find affordable housing.
Anyone who could, moved away. The local newspaper lost its editor because she got the boot from her apartment and couldn’t find housing. Service workers and their families lived doubled up, in garages, in sheds and in trailers camps in flood hazard areas.
Back then, when we went house shopping, we found nothing for under $300,000. And this was for a tiny soft-floored shack without a foundation in a wetland that had been a drug camp.
In the end, that bubble burst. Housing prices went into free-fall and hit with a splat. As the crash unfolded over a few years, those new-hatched realtors became less effervescent and chummy. They became more irritable as well. There were realtors and “cash investors” who were caught holding properties they’d intended for one more flip.
The neighborhoods for the rich carved into the hills behind town haven’t sold. Vacant lots are grown thick with new alder. Many condo-ized and lip-sticked apartments also didn’t sell to the intended chumps. Some were bought up by the county and converted into affordable rental housing.
And our little beach house might be worth a quarter of its supposed value at the peak of the insanity. After some work. On a sunny day. But probably not.
I’m watching a re-run in my current beach town. People here are sure that there’s an endless supply of rich high-tech workers just over the hill who all long for a dear little beach cottage to retire to. Local service-workers are moving away or living doubled-up in garages and sheds and campers. Everyone has become a realtor and realtors have been playing investor. They’re irritable.
I know how this all comes out. We are in free-fall here, kids. I just don’t know how fast it will go, when we’ll hear the splat or if I’ll even want to live here by then.
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Thanks for reading.