Dear friend/person who read something I was quoted as saying in the media/random blogger:
Thank you so much for your thoughts on the state of the housing market. I was most impressed with your emphatic declaration that real estate is currently overpriced and that the nearly 70 percent of Americans who own their own homes are "just a bunch of ninnies."
It is not always easy to be smarter than two-thirds of the country, but you, with your smug declaration that you would "continue renting till prices fall 50%" are clearly some kind of exceptionally far-sighted genius.
The fact that you may have previously come to me as a potential client, only to be told that your target housing would cost five times your annual income, does not weigh in on this debate, I’m sure.
No, you may not have had the wisdom to pull your salary up or your desires down to get your income in line with a starter home; how could you have, when you were using that gigantic brainpower of yours to declare that home prices would keep falling till 2010?
When I first got out of college I went to work on Wall Street. I missed the crash of ’87 but was in the office for the mini-crash of ’88, where grown men (and they were mostly men) who had been in the business for 20 years stopped what they were doing to gather around a computer screen to watch a line go down, down, down.
That was a bad market day, the kind we used to say would drive investors "out on the ledges."
Well, clearly housing has cycles just as stocks do. The fact that America’s real estate is in a slide is best illuminated by the statistic that last year home prices went down, the first annual decrease since the Great Depression.
But it really doesn’t mean that all market activity has ceased. Existing homes may be selling at a pace of only 5 million a year, but honestly, that’s enough business for me that you can stop cracking jokes about my needing to learn to flip burgers for a living.
What’s more, not all of those home sales are the painful struggles that you imagine them to be. I know I’m in the Northeast, which has been spared some of the pain, but things up here that are listed at decent prices still go pretty quickly. I listed my suburban house at 3 percent less than my Realtor advised — yup, I wouldn’t sell outside of my own real estate territory, just like a doctor wouldn’t cut out his own appendix — and I got an offer the week after I listed.
Now, giving up that 3 percent didn’t make me happy, and the price my Realtor advised was probably 10 percent less than it would have been a year ago. But that 13 percent off the peak is still 50 percent higher than when I bought, ninny that I was.
But these are joys that you too can experience, the gut-wrenching thrill of watching neighborhood prices pop up and slide down, when you become a homeowner. (You can also experience the unique frisson of watching money you thought you were going to vacation on turn into roof shingles instead.)
Until then, don’t act supercilious and tell me, "oh, everything’s overpriced, I’m not a buyer." True, some listings are overpriced, but the ones that aren’t are attracting people who have kids and need more space, or people who have to move for their jobs. I’m a homeowner because paying a mortgage is my way of hiding money from myself, and the monthly loan payment is made in dollars that would otherwise get frittered away on shoes and sushi.
Even as the market cycles up and down, I’m building equity, and in 30 years I expect to be richer than I am now. Even as the real estate market is getting stomped on, nearly 5 million people like me are around. You tell me at these prices you’re not a buyer? Honey, you never were.
Alison Rogers is a licensed salesperson and author of "Diary of a Real Estate Rookie."
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