What real estate prices say about a culture

Book Review: 'The Price of Everything: Solving the Mystery of Why We Pay What We Do'

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You might think that Shakespeare’s "Merchant of Venice" is excessively highbrow to be referenced much in the Southern-style, gospel music-filled services of African-American Missionary Baptist churches. Allow me to correct this misperception.

As a lifelong attendee of such services, there is one quote of the Bard I’ve heard, if once, a thousand times: "Even the Devil can cite Scripture for his purpose."

And so it is with homebuyers and the psycho-mathematical contortionism they practice in justifying the value they assign to a home, as most often reflected in an offer to buy a particular property.

Emboldened by the hazy refrain on which real estate agents cut their teeth — that the fair market value of a home is what a qualified buyer is willing to pay for it — buyers overlook highly comparable recent sales, they compare the price per square foot of the sprawling, ranch-style home they want to buy with the price per square foot of the Unabomber-cabin-sized carriage house that recently sold a few blocks away.