Editor’s note: Forget the housing experts who’ve made our heads spin with real estate market forecasts. It’s time for a fresh set of eyes and a new set of skills to tell us whether this housing market is going to bust. In this three-part series, we sought out some alternative sources for predicting the housing market. We opted for a deck of tarot cards, the Taoist zodiac and a consumer focus group. (See Part 2: Is it my time to buy? and Part 3: The people’s forecast.)

Past the rows of herb-filled jars and votive candles, beyond the counter displays of crystals and stones and skeletal charms, is an ornate, lamp-lit reading room where the possible fate of the nation’s housing market was revealed this week.

Academics, think tanks, industry associations, experts and non-experts alike have attempted to predict the future course of events for the housing market – which is marked by an unprecedented, sustained surge in home-buying activity and price appreciation. Theories of booms and busts, bubbles and bursts, beginnings and last breaths have been bandied about loosely or formally presented with meticulously researched statistics.

Click here to view housing-market slideshow.

So many people are saying so many different things about the housing market that home buyers and sellers are left with the dizzying proposition of digesting this voluminous and varied information and forming their own opinions about whether it is a good time for them to buy or sell.

Lon Sarver, a tarot card reader at Ancient Ways, a shop in Oakland, Calif., that employees have dubbed the “the Home Depot of the occult,” took on the challenge this week of deciphering the national housing market’s past, present and future based on the alignment of a series of cards dealt from a 78-card deck.

The mystical practice of tarot (pronounced tuh-row) card readings is believed to be rooted in the French occult movement of the 1700s, and this type of deck was likely borrowed from an Italian card game called Tarocchi that is similar to the modern card game of bridge.

The suits in a tarot deck are staves, cups, swords and pentacles (also called coins). Unlike a standard deck of playing cards, tarot decks do not have jacks, but instead contain knights and pages in all suits. Also, there are 22 additional cards – called the major arcana – that bear the images of figures or objects, such as a magician, emperor, sun, moon and star.

Sarver conducted the reading with the question in mind: What is in store for the nation’s housing market?

He laid down 10 cards, with six cards arranged in a cross-like pattern and the other four cards arranged in a vertical row. This formation, called the Celtic Cross, is one of the more common alignments used by tarot readers.

In a tarot reading, each card has a separate meaning, and the position of each card in the overall formation also has special significance. For example, there are specific card positions that relate to the past, the present and to the future.

The market, he began, is “leaning toward activity.” Change is ahead, he said. “We are looking at a change in the long-term pattern, an establishment of a new order of doing things.”

Two cards – the emperor and the hierophant, or pope – held key positions in the reading. These cards, Sarver said, are significant in that they represent “the way things have been done,” while the overall alignment of the cards portends to an “overturning of tradition – perhaps a change in the way things are turning out,” he said.

One of the cards contained an image of the sun. This card, more than any other in the arrangement, could relate to a cycle such as a boom or a bubble, he said. Its position in the arrangement suggests that talk of the housing bubble is fading, he said. “The influence is passing away. We’re looking at the end of people talking about the end of a bubble, or the passing of a bubble.”

Another card, the Page of Pentacles, represents people’s desire to keep the market on track and not to make any major moves that might put them at financial risk. “They don’t want to lose anything,” he said.

At the center of the deck was the King of Cups. While the king can sometimes represent order and stability, in the reverse the king can also represent anxiety or instability. “It is the only card with a nervous expression,” Sarver said of the arrangement. “People in the market are reluctant to expand – worried about prospects,” he said.

A card laid across the king, the six of wands, shows a man riding on a horse carrying a victory wreath atop one of the wands. In this arrangement, Sarver said, the card suggests “a contrast to nervousness – it’s saying the market’s great. But on the inside, (people) are playing very conservative. They are very worried about where it’s going to go.”

In the card position representing the future, Sarver flipped the three of swords, which features three swords thrust into a large heart, with a cloudy sky looming above. This card, as you might guess, is not the most positive sign of what lies ahead. “Something bad has happened and you’ve got to go through it. It is a contraction and readjustment, rather than a burst and fall. I would not be surprised if there are changes to existing law or structure to slow things down, to keep things stable.”

It could be worse – if the housing market were to end suddenly, you might expect to see the “death” card, he said.

Explaining the eight of wands, the first card in a four-card row that represents trends, Sarver said there are a lot of little issues that must be dealt with by professionals within the real estate community. “Perhaps they waited too long (to deal with the issues). The changes come all at once, rather than one at a time. Some people are going to be overwhelmed,” he said, while others will deal with these issues more fluidly.

The following card, the magician, represents external forces that have worked to make improvements in the industry. This card position in the arrangement is sometimes referred to as “The House.” The next card, called the star, represents balance. There is a fear of loss, he said, and there is a need to slow down, “specialize in one thing or another,” and focus on doing one thing at a time.

The last card, in a position that represents the outcome to the central question of the reading, was the hierophant, or pope. This card, given the overall arrangement, signifies changes in the industry, though nothing that would destroy or halt the way things are going, he said. “As long as people still need houses to live in, I doubt it’ll crash,” Sarver said. “There will be changes in the structure of how things are put together.”

He said the question of whether it is a good time to buy a house should be met with “caution but not fear – don’t let the fear paralyze you. See if you can’t take advantage of other people’s fears to working a better deal for yourself.” The timing is good to buy a home if you are looking for a place to live, but it may not be the best time to buy exclusively for investment purposes, he said.

Most of the people who participate in tarot readings with Sarver are asking for advice about love and money, he said, though he has had a few people who ask about whether it is a good time to sell their homes or move to another area. “Usually (the question) is, ‘Will I be happier when I move?'” he said.

If you believe, the answer is in the cards.

Tomorrow: A personal home-purchase prediction.

***

Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to glenn@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 137.

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