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I’ve been accused by readers recently and in the past few months of actively wishing for the downfall of others, and/or actively gloating about their misfortune because I want housing prices to fall to more reasonable levels. On the surface, I can see why a reader might misinterpret my position as gloating, but let me explain myself by posing a question.
Why is it wrong to wish for an eventuality that will enable a greater number of people to buy and own homes? Politicians here talk a good game about the housing affordability crisis and yet they refuse to acknowledge the fact that the only way for that crisis to be averted is for home prices to fall. There’s no way developers are going to be able to include enough “affordable” housing into their plans to cover the number of San Diegans who need homes.
A little context is important here too. Median home prices have risen about 200 percent in San Diego since the mid-1990s, according to voiceofsandiego.org’s Rich Toscano who explains the housing bubble in-depth on his blog.
Is 200 percent over 10 years a reasonable return on your investment or is that just awesome luck, and great timing?
200 percent appreciation means there’s a lot of room for a free fall. So no, I don’t wish for the misfortune of others. I simply question the use of the word misfortune in this situation.
If you bought a home 10 years ago for $200,000 and were hoping to sell it this year for $600,000 only now no one is willing to pay that much — because, let’s be serious, it’s a 40-year old, three-bedroom house with no yard — is that a misfortune? Am I obliged to feel sorry for you when the fact that you refuse to drop your price for a three-bedroom home below $500,000 means that my family will never be able to own one? Even though you’ll still make a hefty profit at, say, $400,000?
Some people bought their homes in the middle of the peak so they overpaid and now they want me to overpay so they can still make a chunky profit. Is it misfortune if I refuse?
I understand where this group is coming from because my husband and I overpaid for a townhouse in 2004 and sold it in 2006. We made a small profit but it was considerably less than the profit we would have made had we sold six months or even a year earlier. It wasn’t the kind of profit that could change our life.
Is that misfortune?
I don’t think so. Poor luck, maybe and crappy timing.
I even felt like we got screwed a little, but not by anybody in particular and I don’t blame the media’s drumbeat about market downturns for our dumb luck.
Markets change and appreciation is overrated. It’s not money in the bank — it’s simply a snapshot in time.
Miss the opening and it’s gone. Sometimes it grows and sometimes it stagnates. And sometimes, like now, it needs to fall because it’s so far out of line with median incomes that only a steep fall can possibly bring things back into order.
I understand that there are significant numbers of people in danger of defaulting on their mortgages and I certainly wouldn’t celebrate that fact. I hope they can get out without too much damage to their financial houses or their credit ratings. But investing is risky, especially in a booming market, and sometimes we overreach. Sometimes we get lucky and sometimes the universe smacks us down a bit.
A reader called “Chills” wrote a response to my last edition of San Diego Dollars and Sense on Feb. 23:
While I am a homeowner AND thrilled that the bubble is bursting (given the long term economic repercussions of a speculative bubble), you sound like you gloat over the misfortune of others….. not pretty.
Chills is thrilled that the bubble is bursting because of the long-term economic repercussions of said bubble. Chills doesn’t get specific about which repercussions he/she is concerned with, but one of those repercussions is that regular working people can no longer afford to own homes, a fact which directly affects me and my family.
How is it gloating for me to actively wish for that to change? And is it unreasonable given that home prices rose 200 percent over the past decade because of investor speculation and cheap money? I think it is.
Apparently, we’re all allowed to be glad the bubble is bursting for big-picture, very important and academic, public policy reasons like “long-term economic repercussions,” but we’re not allowed to celebrate the fact that that burst might mean we get to put a roof over our heads. I can see how the former position is so much more noble.