Tag Archives: underwater market

Entering the Twilight Zone

Funny what we Realtors stumble across while we’re out there making the rounds on our regular house calls.  Neither rain, nor sea-level snow, nor gloom of market, nor $4 a gallon gas staying us from the completion of our appointed showings.

Funny ha-ha. Funny-weird. Funny-sad. Funny-ironic. It’s all there.   All grist for the mill.  All constant reminder that surely there must be some lesson in this.  Something of value that can be dredged up out of the murky depths of the underwater housing milieu we are swimming around in.

Even if it isn’t going to be home value for the time being.  And even if it isn’t clear what else on earth it could possibly be.

I was previewing a new listing the other day. Another short sale that just came on. One of those places that sold way, way back (further back than we know) in 2005.  The peak of the market that has subsequently flip-flopped to become such a huge black hole for so many.

Specially now that home prices have supposedly regressed all the way back to  2000.  Flipping houses indeed.

Sometimes it feels like the perfect plot twist for an old Twilight Zone Episode.  All that build up to Y2K.  The millennium bug.  In the end, the end of the world that we speculated about and imagined for ourselves just kind of fizzled out with a whimper. Became a no-show. Missed us by a million miles. Far worse than the Comet Kohoutek ever did in 1973.  New Years Eve struck and there was barely a glitch in the stitch of time.

Except now, I gotta go back and ask the question. Did all those computers controlling the planetary alarm clock really get screwed up after all?  Do we actually have our dates all wrong? Did we oversleep and just dream the whole first decade of the new millennium?  Did any of this really ever happen in the first place? Are we just now waking up with a hell of a hang-over after partying like it was 1999? Somehow thinking there was no tomorrow?  (Play Twilight Zone Theme Song App.)

Sorry, my real estate of mind tends to wander to obscure locales while my body is traveling en route and in rote between houses.

Anyway, I was on my way to preview this place. The MLS printout said the owner’s name was Rich. And the comments mentioned that Rich had pumped a lot of additional money into the property after he bought it.   Making repairs. Upgrading features. Customizing the architecture of his original vision.

Insult to injury.  An all-too common story these days.  One that should be getting old  but isn’t.

I arrived at the house. Parked.  Respectfully knocked to see if there was anyone home, before going to get the key out of the lockbox anchored to the hose-bib.  Just as I was fumbling with the knob,  getting ready to enter,  the door swung open slowly, hesitantly.  The barest hint of an ominous creaking sound.

And there, standing in front of me in the entryway, was a tall, sad looking 40- something fellow  holding a cardboard box stuffed full with a mish-mash of discombobulated lamps and picture frames.   Clearly he was on his way out.

Momentarily surprised, not wanting to seem like one of those pushy Realtors invading someone else’s private space, knowing that short sale situations are lose-lose and ofttimes tenuous , I blurted out in my best, smooth-talking, real estate agent voice:  “Are you Rich?”

Right on cue, without missing a beat, no hesitation to speak of, with perfect comedic timing of the rare but subtle gallows-humor sort,  he said without blinking:  “Not anymore. I used to be rich.”

And all I could respond with was silence. One of those occasions when a word is actually worth a thousand pictures.  Specially when it so eloquently sums up all those short sales continuing to flood the market.


The Bends

This just in.   A team of Medieval scholars and forensic academicians has uncovered evidence that earlier translations of Nostradamus’ famous work  – “Les Prophecies” – contain numerous misinterpretations.  Decipherings of the notorious 16th Century Seer’s oft-quoted quatrains, predicting world-changing events, ranging far into the future, have now been revised in light of this recent news.

Californians living in the fault zone, will be relieved to hear that Nostradamus did not actually foresee our State (The Golden Bear) suffering a series of cataclysmic earthquakes literally causing chunks of real estate to fall into the ocean.  He simply had a vision of the early part of the 21st Century, when large portions of the Western United States (The Eagle), would suddenly fly into the default zone and struggle to find a way home to those once-eyrie nests that had somehow become figuratively and eerily trapped upside-down, underwater.

Some of you may have taken time off to wander around on a  wine tasting tour up in Napa this past weekend but I was busy working. I drove through the Central Valley on a fact-finding mission and defacto whine tour. I was determined to plumb the depths of the market and dive into the true state of real estate in Merced, Fresno, Bakersfield and the even fallow-er ‘fields’ of the great Inland Empire sprawling outward from the desolate SoCal hubs of San Bernardino and Riverside.

I brought my real estate snorkeling gear along as a precaution, just in case I needed some fresh air and a few long, cleansing breathes while exploring the rough, underwater terrain I expected to find. But by the time I hit 20,000 leagues and then got a few more kilometers further into the kill zone, I was so deep into it,  I had to strap on my full scuba regalia replete with reserve air tanks.

And then I pulled a MacGyver and jerry-rigged my submersible BMW with a rusty old periscope I found dry-docked along the Salton Sea. It wasn’t far from Rancho Mirage and all those other desert mirages ringing the dried-up lake bed of housing tracts in the Coachella Valley. Those that had sprung forth like a flood from Palm Springs over the last couple of decades – only to finally hit the wall of a tsunami lying in wait.

Sitting on a stack of telephone books, with periscope pushed up out of the sun roof as far as it could go, I tried to navigate my way inside out, from Central California back towards the shores of Santa Cruz and what I hoped would be the safer habitats of Coastal California.

All the while,  I was moving through a vast red tide of toxic assets resembling the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Like the island of suspended plastic particulates, twice the size of Texas, that has been found residing in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, there is a huge horizon of crumbling stucco facades and cracked tile roofs stretching for miles, as far as the eye can see and the brain can envision, sucked up into the complex, swirling gyre-like current of current events.

As the irony of life reminds us in such eloquently simple terms: Garbage in/Garbage out.  We are what we eat. Consumers consume and then they get consumed by their consumption. Chewed up and spit out from the rear end of each binging boom cycle we can’t stay away from.

My big worry, as I got closer to the coast and higher land prices and places that I thought would get me nearer to the surface of the market and the light of day and the clear blue sky I am so used to seeing, was that I would rise too high in value too quickly.

I was afraid that all those bubbles in those underwater markets sitting under such tremendous strain and pressure would decompress so fast, my joints would spasm. My central nervous system would revolt.  The strain on my broken heart and in my crazed head would throw me into such a terminal case of the bends that even a few years of r and r in a hyperbaric marketplace wouldn’t be able to cure me.

Fortunately or unfortunately, my fears were completely unfounded. There wasn’t even a hint of the bends waiting for me as I came around the bend from the Salinas Valley and traveled up Highway 1, gunning it towards home.

Suddenly I began to notice how many sea birds there were that looked like albatrosses, littering my own landscape. How many people here in Santa Cruz County had them hanging around their own necks.  And then I realized, just as Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner had.  No one gets to escape the encumbrance and the wearisome burden. We all have to carry the curse and the metaphor of our times.