Title: "Our Lot: How Real Estate Came to Own Us"
Author: Alyssa Katz
Publisher: Bloomsbury, 2009; 288 pages; $26 list ($17.16 on Amazon.com)
As the real estate crisis evolved, popular media explorations of what caused the problem grew common, but have largely been characterized by finger-pointing sound-bite duels, one industry or interest group vs. the other, e.g., Wall Street vs. real estate brokers, and so forth. Whether or not you agree that further finger-pointing is constructive, you will find that "Our Lot: How Real Estate Came to Own Us," by real estate journalist Alyssa Katz, breaks the mold of surface-skimming blame-gaming.
Though its raison d’etre is to seek out the root causes of the mortgage crisis, "Our Lot" is an extraordinarily researched, deeply thoughtful argument that the government-powered social aim of increasing homeownership "in partnership" with the mortgage banking industry’s mission to sell homes and loans created an alchemy from which the current state of the housing market was a virtually inevitable, albeit eventual, result.
Katz’ prose is surprisingly and engrossingly vivid, humanizing and lyrical, for a nearly 300-page, conspiracy theoretical tome on the economy. She weaves a seamless narrative from such very macro subjects as the events comprising the deregulation of the mortgage industry under the Reagan and Clinton administrations to the very micro events that took place in the lives of individual homeowners and investors as they gutted, flipped, threw money at and, eventually for some, lost properties to foreclosure.
This wide-ranging investigation/analysis/commentary drills deeply into the roles of almost every player — small and large — in the real estate market drama as it unfolded, painting a quite true-to-life picture of the dozens of inextricably intertwined pieces of the puzzle, including such rarely explored elements as the consumer mindset impact of real estate blogs like Curbed and those glossy real estate supermarket magazines.
Ultimately, Katz places the lion’s share of blame on the government for irresponsibly promoting a "by any means necessary" social priority on homeownership and allowing the markets to operate without restriction to execute that goal. Katz deems it "simply not shocking that businesses would do anything within the moral order, and sometimes outside of it, to compete and get what they want." On the other hand, she finds it "astounding" that government continued for so long, irrationally, to see real estate as a commodity just like other commodities and to believe for so long, naively, that extremes in greed in the mortgage industry and even among individual speculators and homeowners "would correct themselves."
By contrast, Katz lets individuals off the hook, opining that government had "made the buying and selling of the places where we live so intensely rewarding" that all the nongovernmental entities involved were "like rats granted cocaine for pushing a lever, (because) they had his one reward stimulated so hard, and so often. …"
Whether or not you agree with her premises or positions, you will find "Our Lot" to be a logical, engaging and extremely well-supported argument for government regulation of mortgage securitization, going forward, as the primary pillar of the effort to prevent such a massive housing crisis from recurring in the future.
Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of "The Savvy Woman’s Homebuying Handbook" and "Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions." Ask her a real estate question online or visit her Web site, www.rethinkrealestate.com.
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