Editor’s note: Meet Tara-Nicholle Nelson at the upcoming Real Estate Connect conference in San Francisco, which runs from Aug. 5-7, 2009. She will be available to meet with conference attendees from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 6, in the Palace Hotel’s Ralston Room. Click here to send Tara-Nicholle a message.

Book Review
Title: ‘The Skinny on the Housing Crisis: What Every Homeowner and Homebuyer Needs to Know
Author: Jim Randel
Publisher: RAND Publishing, 2009; 168 pages; $12.95 list ($12.95 on Amazon.com).

Japanese manga comics seem like a logical inspiration source for sneaker design or body art. On reading "The Skinny on the Housing Crisis: What Every Homeowner and Homebuyer Needs to Know," you’ll see that manga also served as impressive inspiration for the 2009 Robert Bruss Book Award-winning title.

The "Skinny on the Housing Crisis" ("Skinny") is the inaugural title in a burgeoning series of comic book-format how-to titles intended "for really busy people."

"Skinny," which the average Joe or Josephine could read cover to cover in an hour, tops, relates the entire homeownership cycle — from developing an interest in real estate from nighttime infomercials through the house hunt, foreclosure and beyond — through the cautionary tale of Billy and Beth, a fictitious stick-figure couple.

The book’s comic-style illustration-and-dialogue panels follow Billy and Beth along with a cast of characters including their real estate agent, mortgage broker, real estate attorney (rushing to make his tee time) and even Alan Greenspan (complete with bifocals and living in a literal ivory, turreted tower).

There are several distinctions that escalate "Skinny" beyond a simple printed and bound version of the various comic-style synopses of the real estate bubble floating about the blogosphere.

The book’s (mostly) lighthearted illustrated panels are interspersed with meaty tidbits of analysis, quotes and even action steps for the reader/real estate consumer to stay out of the sort of trouble Billy and Beth ended up in. Like the book’s "bloggy" counterparts, Randel places a fair amount of blame for the crisis on real estate agents, mortgage professionals, appraisers and Wall Street banks and agencies.

Unlike them, though, Randel imbues the book — and the reader — with an undercurrent of understanding that many trustworthy advisers are out there advocating for homebuyers’ interests and places an appropriately hefty dose of personal responsibility for making informed, disciplined financial decisions on the individual consumer.

And what makes "Skinny" different from its fellow books in the finger-pointing housing market hindsight genre (all of which claim to aim to help readers prevent a repeat of the past) are the book’s:

  • entertaining and novel format;
  • brevity (about 170 pages, lots of which have no more than 30 words on the page);
  • strong Web tie-in with its frequently updated site, TheSkinnyOn.com;
  • timeliness ("Skinny" series titles go from manuscript to press in 90 days, compared with the two-year lead time of traditionally published books, meaning that the book includes more up-to-date references about the Obama Administration’s foreclosure mitigation efforts than many of the other books which were released at the same time).

Long story short: people will read and relate to this book. They’ll laugh when they recognize bits of truth about themselves in the caricatures (I did!). But they’ll also take away some important lessons and perhaps a deeper understanding of how the economic stars lined up — and how individual consumers’ behavior contributed — to create the housing crisis.

Because they can laugh their way through the book, they’ll likely also visit the Web site and sign up for updates. They might check out one of the many deeper treatments of the subject matter referenced throughout "Skinny."

And they’ll almost certainly be inspired to be more educated, more deliberate and more responsible on their next foray into real estate and mortgage decision-making. And there’s nothing comic about that. 

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.


What’s your opinion? Leave your comments below or send a letter to the editor. To contact the writer, click the byline at the top of the story.

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