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What To Make Of The So Called Real Estate Bubble

Aug 17, 2007
Open the paper or switch on the TV news or a radio talk show, and chances are you're going to encounter something about the real estate market and its recent downturn.

Typically, those who have staked their professional reputations on being dark horse skeptics are predicting nothing short of a global economic apocalypse.

Others often those on the take from the real estate industry scoff at such dire visions. Don't listen to the doomsayers, they say we're in for a soft landing, and I don't believe it

But how these perspectives affect the average person with a mortgage or with a dream of buying his own house is anything but clear. So who do you listen to, and what does it all mean?

But what if you're not an investor? For the average home buyer, these market generalizations and big trend stories may not mean a whole lot.

Why not? Even in our global economy, real estate is still a local matter. And what holds true for your brother's house in Poughkeepsie may not have much bearing on your condo on Nob Hill. Indeed, your condo may share a very different fate from the multi-million-dollar mansion down the street.

Different areas have been hit by the slowing real estate market in very different ways. Places like San Diego which witnessed Wild West style appreciation seem to have been hit the hardest.

In contrast, undiscovered markets like Boise, Idaho, and Marfa, Texas, have been discovered big time. Since homes in these towns and small cities are still considered cheap by many living in big cities, they are enjoying an extended, no end in sight boom, largely funded by second-home buyers and investors.

Some markets seem especially schizophrenic. For instance, in Solano County California prices have risen over 16 percent since last April, while the number of houses sold in April 2006 plummeted a full 35.7 percent in the same period.

Sales numbers tend to get a lot of attention in real estate punditry because they mean so much to the real estate industry itself. After all, high sales mean high commissions. But for the average homeowner, it's the price that counts.

So while most homeowners can congratulate themselves on another year of insane appreciation, local real estate agents may be wondering where their next meal is coming from and many of their clients will still be left out in the cold.

A change in the number of sales is typically taken as an auger of where prices are headed. As inventory increases and sales drop, the stage is set for desperate sellers to begin lowering prices. But that doesn't always happen. April sales numbers dropped precipitously between 2000 and 2001, but prices rose.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not predicting another replay of 2001.

Nationally, inventory has increased by over 300 percent since 2001. And many places are already showing signs that prices are being slashed like a proverbial blue light special. Last month, for instance, a quarter of Marin Country California listings saw their prices reduced. For many years Marin County was the highest priced real estate in the country.

But so far, the bubble has shown signs only of leaking, not popping. Most localities despite steep declines in sales continue to appreciate, though rates have dropped to single digits.

In layman's terms that means the home you bought a 18 months ago at a ridiculous price would still command an even more ridiculous price today.

At this point, I think the best answer is it that it all depends on what you're buying or selling and how it's priced. Does this mean that home prices haven't significantly declined? Not exactly.

Real estate agents have ways of relisting their properties at lower prices without signaling a price reduction. Sometimes it's their way to make the listing seem fresh.

But even if there have been substantial sleight of hand relistings by real estate agents, a serious buyer's market as many of my renter friends would define it has not yet arrived, nor will it ever.

The problem for most home buyers is is that even with substantial price reductions, the market still looks absurdly overpriced when compared to their wages.

Bubble or no bubble, it's as if real estate froth had become like fog: a permanent part of the landscape that many of us, for better or for worse, have decided to live with.
About the Author
Richard Reichmann is internationally known as a millionaire maker. He's a leading consultant in real estate and internet marketing strategies that are profit proven.

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