There are several dilemmas you encounter when doing a story about California real estate. First off, though everyone agrees we’re in a “bust” phase in our housing cycle, the effects of this particular bust are all over the place, with no discernible connection between sales figures in Riverside versus Orange County, or home prices in Culver City versus Malibu. Second, it’s a story that almost everyone has a vested stake in … the people in front of the camera, behind the camera, to the side of the camera. You may have bought your home at the high end of the market, and see only grief ahead. Or you’re trying to sell to sell a second home, and are worried that you’re going to take a huge loss. Or you’re an academic expert who’s used their insider knowledge to buy various properties all across town. In other words … this is one story with no discernible, disinterested party. Everyone brings a whole lot of personal and financial baggage to this particular table, and it showed how each of us approached and reacted to the story.
On top of that was the endless stream of anecdotal observations we kept hearing. You’d confirm that there’s been a 50 percent drop in southern California home prices. Then someone would tell me that that couldn’t be true because their neighbors just sold their home for more than the asking price. Next I’d read a report about the glut of unsold homes in this market … only to have someone question me about this because they’d been unsuccessfully looking for a house to buy. Every fact and figure and statistic we came up with had a dozen anecdotes that seemed to contradict it. Some of the answers to this paradox can hopefully be found in this week’s SoCal Connected piece, and in the blog posting by Burt Slusher. The rest can be explained by pointing out that this housing bubble we just went through was the biggest, baddest one ever in California history … so it shouldn’t be surprising that the aftermath is more than a bit messy and surreal.