The Calculus of the Narrative

Ok. Oly Oly Oxen Free. Here it comes. Ready or not.

The holiday hiatus is over. The furlough has expired. The sabbatical from real estate everyone seemed more than willing to take at the end of the year, with or without pay, has run its course.

When the principal actors (buyers, sellers, agents) tacitly agree to shut things down for a month – it’s the perfect excuse to limit expectations. No one can be too disappointed because nothing much was supposed to happen anyway.
Real estate lite. Tastes bland. Less filling. But a great self-fulfilling prophecy that helps lower the bar.

Wouldn’t it be tempting to stay here in our real estate of unanimated suspension forever? Floating weightless? Going through slow motions? Void of emotion? Thoughts adrift?

A no man’s land-escape filled with the illusion that there’s always going to be plenty of time to fix things? Maybe this spring!! For now…the market dissolves. The future seems a long way off. And life is but a dream… until it isn’t again.

The real world calls. The gravity of the situation is kicking into gear as we re-enter earth’s atmosphere. Time to re-engage the thrusters. Push the reset button. Get back to business as unusual.

It’s the cusp of a brand new year and here we are. Game on.

So where exactly is here again? Where did we leave off before we were so rudely waylaid by the holidays? Hard to figure.

Real estate in 2011 came and went. Moved in and out like a ghostly apparition. A lingering echo but no tangible progress. No mandate. Firm footing. Wholesale change. Or proof positive.

If real estate was going to reinvent itself and design a comfortable new place to live in our hearts and minds in 2011, it didn’t get very far. The as-built structure looks nothing like the plans on the drawing board last January.

Looks more like the architecture of surreal estate. Unfinished doorways leading to narrow precipices. Windows opening onto tight corridors. Escher-like stairways incorporating strange tricks of perspective. A series of never-ending steps looping back on themselves.

We went back to the future with interest rates from the 50’s but ran head-on into the credit crunch. So we went forward into the past as the median price receded to 2000-2001 levels.

More Buyers wanted to buy and waited for better properties. Sellers didn’t offer better properties because more Buyers didn’t buy. By default, distress sales loomed larger. Values declined further. Short sales weren’t short. Closure didn’t arrive at the end of the foreclosure tunnel. The shadow inventory got shadowier. First time buyers couldn’t compete with all-cash investors. Rents rose counter-cyclically.

While the economy was waiting for Real Estate to lead, Real Estate was still waiting to follow.

Newsmakers are working hard to conjure up a few bold headlines to start the year. Spinners are spinning. Indicators are indicating. Pundits are postulating. Everyone is positioning for change.

It all feels disingenuous. Like the little boy crying recovery. We back-dated the end of the recession to 2009… shouldn’t it feel better by now? Shouldn’t good news sound more like good news and less like the rehabilitated absence of bad news?

The real story of Real Estate right now is: there’s no discernible narrative. Just competing storylines that don’t fit. And the calculus of the narrative doesn’t add up. No one can possibly do the math and figure it out.

The goal of 2012 has to be a completely new story. Enlist some real resolutionaries to come up with a radical new set of New Year’s resolutions. We were still looking at the tip of the iceberg last year. Not the tipping point.

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