Editor’s note: The following post written by Inman News Publisher Bradley Inman comes from the Inman News Blog. Click here to join a discussion on this topic.
On Sunday, the New York Times published a story in its Style Section about the relationship between the divorce rate rising and home prices increasing.
Three other consequences of the housing boom are noteworthy: foreclosures, bad architecture and poor housing quality.
Much has been written about foreclosures, an ugly human drama with too much misery.
Bad design and sloppy construction have received less coverage.
Mortgage liquidity drove down interest rates, spawned exotic loans and masked the true cost of housing. Consumers bought more square footage than they needed.
The middle class imagined it was richer than it was. Like private equity funds, homeowners borrowed cheap, realized fantastical leverage, and lived large. Many did not plan an exit strategy — the housing slowdown has become a lesson in the dangers of conspicuous consumption.
Not subprimers, the next group to feel the pain of the slowing housing market are seemingly responsible homeowners who lost control of their senses. Credit lines on top of large home loans became bank accounts, which funded stuff to fill big houses.
The super-sized home took a new and ugly form — often poorly emulating Mediterranean architecture. (Say the word "European" and most Americans get giddy.)
Mix a love fest with Europe, a little bit of Home Depot Expo, and the craftsmanship of the average American home builder and you get an ugly statement about this housing boom. Mortgage-liquidity architecture dots the landscape as a reminder of our real estate excess.
Shoddy construction is another consequence, as home builders slapped up homes faster than at any period in history. Building inspectors, like mortgage regulators, often turned a blind eye as they raced to keep up with the builders.
The litigators are having a field day, representing homeowners who are suing over a myriad of defects. Poor workmanship becomes evident to homeowners when their property depreciates — a bad market brings out the bitterness in us all. The investor lawsuits from the dot-com crash are still being sorted out, and I suspect housing defect litigation will persist for a decade, which is the statute-of-limitations period for new construction in many states.
The housing boom was not all bad.
Urban investment is the silver lining in this dark cloud. The exuberance of the real estate boom pushed capital back into our cities, something that eluded public officials for more than 40 years.
Every spec of real estate in this country — even our cities — was viewed as an opportunity.
Former Oakland, Calif., Mayor Jerry Brown saw how tech investors favored the Silicon Valley and financial investors loved San Francisco, as his East Bay city was ignored by the private sector. Only the federal government erected buildings in Oakland.
Brown’s had something valuable — entitlements, which he gave out freely to builders who shunned Oakland before. Six thousand units were built, which amounts to almost $1.5 billion in private investment.
Most cities benefited from the willingness of private lenders, investors and suburban home builders to build dense projects in urban locations. The sad days of redlining gave way to mortgage money for almost every homeowner, as property in most urban locations was fixed up.
Urban architecture was often more sensitive to the parochial style in order to please neighbors, so it seems to work better than the Euro knockoff designs in the ‘burbs.
Plus, dense urban development is a land-planning anecdote to the global warming woes spawned by sprawling, suburban, big-house developments. This environmental benefit — how you might view a Prius as an attractive car — makes urban housing even more appealing.
Regrettably, some of the hardest-hit foreclosure hot spots are located in the cities, but the urban makeover has lasting benefits.