Monthly Archives: January 2011

My Inner-Contrarian and True Oppositivism

Damn that real estate data trying to torpedo us.  Full speed ahead I say. Even if we are running in place let’s dial it up a notch on the treadmill.   We have to find some way to get exercised enough to exorcise our demons. We gotta stay in shape if we’re going to achieve escape velocity in this, our most audacious  of  “Sputnik Moments.”

There we were just getting settled into another brave new year. New resolutons. Great new expectations. .  Busy negotiating favorable new lease-option agreements with life.

And suddenly…the local stats for December appeared in the Sentinel on Tuesday.  Quel bum-err.  Median price down. Teetering near $500k.  Number of sales lackluster (128) .  Distress inventory swallowing a larger slice of the shrunken pie  (39% of single-family homes and 58% of the condo market).

On the same day, the New York Times was foisting the latest installment of the Case Shiller Index on us. Reporting significant price declines in most of the nation’s metropolitan real estate markets in October and November. Some hitting their lowest  levels since the bubble blew itself up in 2006/07.

The latest news will certainly spark public debate about a possible double-dip in home prices.  And undoubtedly the usual suspects  – optimistic spinmeisters and pro-economic-life pundits – are already rounding themselves up to log and blog more overtime hours promoting the positive signs of recovery floating on the ether.

Me? I’ve decided this is the moment to reach into the deepest recesses of my own real estate of mind to access the inner-most of inner contrarians that resides there.  That special voice inside my head that takes immense pleasure in contradicting even my own normal contrary nature. After all, one of the hardest habits to break is the habit of being oneself.

I recognize that I’m constitutionally hardwired to oppose anything and everything that smacks of false positivism.  I’ll probably always be one of the first guys to step up and draw a mustache on whatever smiley-face button my industry tries to pin on the marketplace.  But just the same, when the negative nattering reaches a fever-pitch it begins to sound just as boring and uninspiring as its Siamese twin does .

In response, I’m turning over a new leaf. I’m done putting down false positivism. I’m now a dyed-in-the-wool, born-again advocate for true oppositivism.  At least for now.  No guarantees about next week.

So I’m here to remind you in no uncertain terms that bad real estate statistics are trailing indicators too – just like good ones are.  The real market is always ahead of us no matter how hard we try to keep up. If the numbers were down for October and November and December, isn’t that a good sign?  The last dregs of the downturn?

Yes,  I know that the number of foreclosures is up and projected to be higher in 2011. But isn’t that good news?  Doesn’t that mean that the huge pig in the python, all those once and future dreaded mortgage defaults, are finally working their way through the system? Heading towards resolution rather than an eternity in limbo?

Here’s what the pulse of the market and my own apocryphal glimpses into the crystal ball are telling me:

There’s more enthusiasm in the job market over the hill.  The very thing that drove the real estate market out of its doldrums in the early 90’s.  Sent it skyrocketing into the late 90’s.

There’s more cash showing up in the market daily.  Some of that cash is buying primary residences.  More of it is speculative cash buying foreclosures, rental properties. 2nd  homes and long-desired vacation properties.  Yeah, part of the reason is that prices have come down, but it also means that people are actually pulling the trigger. They only do that when they sense it is time.

So many buyers have been holding back, chomping at the bit, itching to get going.  Time after time they’ve gotten all the way to the edge of actually doing something only to back down in the end.   Sooner or later there’s going to be a mad scramble as tons of these same wanna-be buyers grow suddenly fearful that the window of opportunity is closing. Pay attention folks.  That realization may come sooner than you think.

How about if we end by cheering the market on with a few choice phrases of true oppositivism? ” It’s always darkest before the dawn.”  And: “The farther away it feels the closer you really are.”  And: “You have to get lost first before you can find your way home. ”


A La Carte Menu

What a crazy year 2010 was! What an equally auspicious start to 2011 already!  May I unburden myself for a moment?

A quick recap of the news. The Chinese Government issued regulations forbidding reincarnation without proper authorization. Peruvian President Alan Garcia declared that “inbred national melancholy” is to blame for his recent low approval ratings.  Romanian witches, angry at having to pay taxes for the first time, are using cat excrement to cast spells on their government.  And astronomers are revising the number of stars upward to 300 sextillion, meaning there are probably trillions of “earth-like worlds” populating the universe.  A reassuring thought for sure.

Thanks  for indulging me.  Since Real Estate of Mind is conspicuously lodged on the front page of the Sentinel Real Estate Section, I’ll try to navigate a little closer to home in the future.

Anybody catch the pre-Christmas art installation by Bay Area sculptor Lucy Puls?  Held at the Electric Works in San Francisco, it advanced “found object art” to the more socially relevant genre of “foreclosed object art.”  Puls’ show was called “Repossessed: Brief Madness”  and featured pieces inspired by illicit forays into numerous unoccupied, foreclosed homes. Google it.

Paul Auster’s new novel Sunset Park is a stark existential tale about home and its many threads of meaning. The acclaimed author uses the nation’s housing crisis as a narrative backdrop and his description of a work crew cleaning out REO properties that begins the book, will resonate deeply with those mindful of the sad humanity underlying all those distress sales happening out there. Google Auster/NPR and hear him read a passage.

Anyone notice the guy standing at River Street and Hwy 1 for weeks, right next to the Homeless Services Center,  waving a red sign at passing traffic, advertising a  huge TENT SALE  for a local retail outlet?  Panhandling is illegal but folks in clown suits standing on street corners selling tents isn’t.  We could up the irony quotient by hiring some homeless folks to push Safeway shopping carts around town  as mobile sandwich boards featuring those promotional pictures of Real Estate Agents wanting to list your home.

An unemployed Santa Cruz carpenter has found a way to turn the squeezed-out labor market into an enterprising attempt at lemonade.  He’s pioneered a new, new age technique aimed at revitalizing sick or unsold homes by performing acupuncture on them.  Using a specially adopted nail gun, he shoots 16 penny nails into the energy meridians of a home’s framing structure to get the positive chi flowing again.

Internet entrepreneur Jon Jacobs recently completed the largest single Virtual Real Estate  transaction on record – selling his property on a giant virtual asteroid for $330,000.  Google it. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m going to get my own virtual house in order and make sure my Real Estate Avatar is ready to rock and roll.

Question: What’s the name of the biggest, baddest gang in the Palm Springs/Palm Dessert area?  Answer: Barrio Dream Homes. Google it.

Promoters in Las Vegas are poised to announce the grand opening of Dystopia Acres, America’s first official “Subprime Suburb”. It will be billed as a planned community that’s been thoroughly unplanned and then completely re-planned again to meet the needs of the future and remedy the sins of the past.  They’ll kick off the festivities with a Broken Dream House Raffle awarding a free home to some richly deserving soul.

Also popular this coming year will be a series of ground-breaking neuro-marketing seminars based on A.K. Pradeep’s new book called  The Buying Brain: Secrets for Selling to the Subconscious Mind.  Google it. Pradeep’s precepts will supplant older high-touch models based on Vulcan Mind Meld Techniques as a means of allowing Agents to get into the heads of their buyers and sellers.

There is no truth to the rumor that limericks will become a popular way to  promote homes.  There is also no truth to the rumor that real estate agents will begin collecting cover charges at their weekend open houses.

Advanced Data Mining by Real Estate Agents using Facebook and other Social Media sites is apparently in the works. Special software algorithms have been developed to chase down all mentions of  major life transitions like job loss, old age and death and send follow-up automated e mail solicitations.  Getting divorced ? Look for a special message from the Community Property Asset Protection Service coming to an inbox near you.

By the way, there is no truth to the rumor that Al Gore invented algorithms despite the whimsical similarity in names.


A Brave New Year!

Welcome to a Brave New Year folks. If not another installment in the Brave New World of Real Estate. The place where realty is stranger than any realm of far out fiction we could possibly dream up.

If there are non-believers in the sheer, overwhelming surreal-ness of it all, still left out there, don’t worry, we’re going to be digging up that time capsule we buried back in 2005 soon. Wonder what we’ll find in there?

Thirty-five rabid offers on the first day? Hundred thousand dollar overbids? Median prices in the mid 700’s? 100% Subprime, Easy Qual, No Income No Asset Verification Loans with extra l0% Equity Line layers of icing on top for good measure?

Seems like a million years ago now. Bubbles Bursting? Toxic Assets? Credit Crunch? Bailouts? Short Sales? And according to RealtyTrac – at least another 6 homes that will be repossessed just in the time it takes you to read this. Who would have thunk it or sunk it so low back then?

But I’m back on board for another merry go round in 2011. If not as an official journalist, then as your intrepid, ad hoc, Sentinel advertorialist. In for the duration. Fully embedded with the rest of the real estate troops. Going out on sorties and daily intelligence-gathering missions. Slogging around out there in the trenches. I’m prepared to pay the price. both literally and figuratively since these weekly flights of fancy actually cost me a bundle.

Each morning I’ll rise at the crack of dawn. Download all the dream home data from the cloud. Sift through the avalanche of spam in my in-box that never seems to sleep, looking for a few worthwhile bytes. I’ll polish my Realtor lapel pin. Charge my super-duper supra-key lockbox opener thingy. Strap on my 4G Smart Phone. Set my GPS map coordinates stalwartly ahead for the future. And don my infra-red market goggles designed to prevent too much blue sky from discoloring the truth.

I promise not to spend your time or my money, hyping my hype or selling my sell. My strict vow of celebrity chastity still stands. I’ve weaned myself off my real estate success addiction for good. I’ve been thoroughly deprogrammed. Honest. I’ll never-ever mention the bazillions of dollars of real estate I’ve sold over the last two decades or the tons of awards that I’ve won or taken the liberty to bestow upon myself. Oops. I mean never-ever again after this that is.

This is part labor of love and part sanity check for me. Lifting small corners of the veil. Shining tiny lights into the cracks. Musing on the game within the game. Inflicting humor. Going against the grain. Frowning at all the smiley-faces. Subverting the most pregnant paradigms. Going counter-clockwise against the spin. Searching for the grail. Navigating the maze. Wading into the flow of the flux with my own steady stream of consciousness aka Real Estate of Mind.

You get the idea. Together we’ll do the best we can to make sense out of it all. Improvise and adapt. Follow the trail of bread crumbs on the fairy tale path through the real estate story – hoping it all leads us eventually back, closer to home. Or at least to a better understanding of what home means.

Real estate circa 2011 is going to offer up more than it’s share of strange bedfellows. Odd events. Competing ideas. Conflicting feelings. Strong stirrings. Unusual juxtapositions. Be prepared.

F. Scott Fitzgerald once said: “The true test of a first-rate mind is the ability to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time and still function.” I’m going to amend that for our post-millennial world of post-postmodern real estate. It’s the ability to hold six or eight or more seemingly random contradictions without going totally off the deep end that is going to be required of all first-rate, functioning minds in the coming year.

We are each going to be asked to fashion a meaningful mosaic out of the jigsaw pieces doled out. A stained glass window spun out of slivers and fragments of good and bad news. Hopefully a year from now we can say that we aren’t still seeing through the glass darkly.


To Move or Not To Move?

Start of another year, right? What’s it going to be? To move or not to move? That is the question.

Whether tis nobler in your own real estate of mind to wallow in the outrageous misfortune of the huge pendulum that’s been swinging back in retrograde. The one that’s been whopping us steadily upside the head since the eclipse of the bubble first began. Or whether it’s finally time to armor yourself against the sea of troubles out there. Do more than just tread water for the next twelve months. Start to swim in the current of current events rather than sinking further into the false comfort of going nowhere and doing nothing.

So many of you have spent the last few years polishing your worry stones into jewels of denial. Gazing into the void of avoidance with cloudy eyes.

I can sense the stirring. Hear the murmurs. Feel a rise in the pulse. I see more of you wanting to at least start to begin to consider to think about the possibly of taking that very small first step of walking yourselves through the motions. We’ll call that progress for now. Pre-qual letters. CMA’s. Logging on to MLS search engines. Doing virtual drive-bys.

Yes, there are signs. Rumblings. A definite desire to get over the hump. To stop navigating forward by looking in the rearview mirror. To stop ducking and covering every time a scary thought goes off and mushrooms inside our heads.

Are there enough people out there ready to take themselves off hold? Get out of the automated voice mail system from hell that keeps delivering a steady stream of robo-messages to the collective psyche?

No way around it folks. All kinds of pre-programmed tape loops are going to be pressing your buttons this year. Flirting with you or torturing those of you who have been alienated from the real estate process for awhile and are now trying to dial it back in and phone home.

Headlines will be yapping at you. Pundits will be yapping at you. The Feds, Case-Shiller, Bloomberg and the NAR will all be yapping at you. Friends, relatives and co-workers will be yapping at you. Heck, I’m going to be yapping at you.

Yapping is what we do these days. It’s the national pastime we use to pass the time while waiting for something else outside of ourselves to come along and make up our minds for us.

But here’s the thingŠin the end, no matter how hard you try, you aren’t going to be able to divine the square root of all those pie holes yapping at you. It ain’t possible. Too many irrational numbers in the equation. They are no simple solutions based on our fractional thinking.

I know what my own New Year’s Resolution is going to be. My resolution is to implore all of you to be resolute. That’s right. Whatever you decide, make a pact with yourself to really decide. The only way to solve your on-the-fence dilemma in the coming year, is to summon resolve. Because it isn’t going to be a cake-walk in 2011. The specters of job creation, continuing credit crunch and growing distress/foreclosure inventories aren’t going to go away anytime soon.

Perhaps we’ll have both a jobless and a real estate-less recovery.

It doesn’t matter whether it is a good market, a bad market, or a Goldilocks market where the porridge is not too warm and not too cold and seemingly just right. The market is always in transition, going one direction or another. And people selling houses or buying houses are always in the middle of their own life transitions. Transitions happening within transitions ad infinitum. The contingencies are endless and none of us can ever figure out all the moving parts.

At some point you just have to take the leap of faith. Just like you did when you got married. Or had a child. Or took that new job. Or bought the last house you still live in. None of you knew exactly how those situations were going to turn out. It’s life. It’s organic. It’s all constantly evolving. It’s more than the sum of the parts. You can try and reduce it all down to a rational, scientific formula that tracks the interaction of all the atoms and predicts what will happen. But in the end, the future is never going to be scripted by any observation of the past. You, each of us, can only act with certainty in the moment. Make that your Real Estate Resolution.