Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Housing Ladder To Nowhere

I've posted a number of local, Lake Forest, Calfornia examples where, during the time frame of approximately 2004 to 2007, people really bought in to the irrational exhuberance over "owning a home" and paying top dollar. The housing ladder only went up and the number of rungs was believed to be unlimited.

The examples I've cited have been mainly single family homes, and typically with 4 bedrooms, 2 baths or more. I want to make this important distinction, because none of us should lose sight of the fact that families are involved here. The lives of parents and children are probably being turned royally upside down by these trying financial times.

In my view, people who work today in the real estate profession rarely if ever admit to the social impact of their recent handiwork. Realtors, mortgage lenders and bank CEOs will talk all day about new listings, median home prices, monthly sales numbers and perhaps notices of default, the new tools for their website, and a recent closing experience, etc. But they don't seem to fully appreciate that behind all of these astonishing numbers are people. People just like you and me. People with hopes and dreams. People with worries and loves.

The downturn in the California housing market has quantifiable ramifications to be sure: bankruptcies, business closings, lost state and federal revenues, lost tax dollars, federal and state budget crises, increased taxes, unemployment (housing related and other), budget-related degradation of public services, and reduction in funding to school districts. These are serious, quantifiable issues that we've only begun to come to terms with.

But the other side of the coin is equally blemished. The social price tag of this downturn may not be known for many years. The housing market bubble and crash has affected people personally and psychologically in terms of their daily stress, their overall health, as well as the cohesiveness and well being of families. It may be too that the crises brings people closer together than before, which would be a good thing. My posts on this blog have often been sarcastic and angry. However, I do feel badly for those who made honest mistakes and for those who suffer because of them, especially young kids who may not fully understand what's gone wrong.

Since I started The Rancid Truth Blog about Orange County Real Estate in 2005, I was pissed off. Really pissed off. I've worked very hard, traveled extensively and earned good money. I've paid more than my fair share of state and federal income taxes, yet I have been utterly priced out of the volatile housing market here. I should be paying more for the privalege of renting a single family home, but I'm not. It's cheaper to rent here. And we all know today that Orange County California home prices were fueled by snake oil sales people (liars), irresponsible lending, irresponsible borrowing (lying on mortgage qualification docs), and unabashed greed.

And I'm still pissed off about all of this.

Sure, I was the responsible one. I didn't take massive risks, yet my federal and state taxes are going up, my rent stays the same, yet I'm helping unqualified people stay in homes that they can't afford, and that I might otherwise have been in a position to buy myself (if prices where allowed to adjust) and assume all of the responsibility that this might entail, including paying local property taxes.

I'm convinced that I'm right to be angry about what's happened here (and still happening here), and to demand change. I don't want a medal for being financially prudent the last 4 years. But I do think that the housing market needs to be allowed to shake itself out and correct, fully understanding and appreciating that there will be significant financial and social casualties in the process. The sooner the market heals itself, the sooner it can recover.

On to today's example:

The setting is June of 2005, Lake Forest, California. The single family housing market is white-hot. Home buyers, lenders and Realtors are living the high life. Homes are selling like umbrellas during a rainstorm, and at stratospheric prices.

A lovely 4 bedroom, 3 bath single family home, 2,150 sq. feet and 10,800 sq foot lot (most of it on a useless backyard incline) located in the beautiful Bennett Ranch area, sold to a new owner for $680,500. That's $311/sq foot.

Fast forward 6 months later to January 2006. The home sold again, this time for $795,000! That's $370/sq ft!

It's now April 2009 and the home has shed it's toxic loan glamour and become a short sale offered at $445,000 ($207/sq ft).

25551 Glen Acres, Lake Forest, CA 92630

Glen Acres is the place to be.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have shared your anger since 2005 when we moved back from a short stint of homeownership in another state. When we returned we knew homes here were outrageously overpriced. We didn't buy but have been renting since 2005 even though we had previously owned. What was ironic was that when we returned many friends who were previously renters when we were owners tried to convince us to buy and we kept telling them it was unaffordable. Many of them have since sold and some acquaintances are walking away from their homes now. Unfortunately, we are not getting any comfort in being right as we see the economy destroyed. Thanks for your blog. This particular home looks nice from the outside. Is this a good area in LF?