A funny thing happened on the way out of the bubble — Americans became obsessed with real estate. It was an inevitable phenomenon that had been snowballing for years; the advent of home-improvement television and the Web-empowered access to all sorts of random real estate data created a whole flavor of person who considered themselves a real estate fan, sort of like fantasy football aficionados or scrapbookers.

And then the market had, uh, issues. The housing market became the No. 1 news topic, and as declining home values made it tougher for sellers to sell their homes, it also created opportunities for previously priced-out buyers to buy, and diminished the net worth of homeowners who weren’t even contemplating a real estate transaction …

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