Wednesday, April 16, 2008

STATUS ANXIETY WEEK: Real estate


In a recent post on Official Topics of Adult Conversation, I got this comment:

anonymous said...
No. 1 on your list really should be real estate! I can't go anywhere without hearing about real estate anxiety, real estate envy, real estate boasting, etc., etc., ad nauseum.


Indeed.

M friend JJ and I have several games we like to play. One of them is "How much is that house worth," which I turn into a truly horrible game by looking up people's property assessments online. What did they pay for it? How long ago? What's it worth now? Does Zillow overstate the value? By how much?

It's so bad now that I find myself driving home from errands on some days trying to remember 3 or 4 house numbers I want to be sure I look up.

New York Times real estate section? Love it. Got jealous at the NY couples who flipped home like 5, 6 times in the 90s and early this decade and got over before the bubble burst? Maybe a little.

When I asked my CPA how I should be investing my money, he told me I should consider investing in a second property. The thought made me orgasmic. Hmm, I thought, I could be a rental slum lord. Yes! Passive income? YES! Yes, yes, yes! (Did I take his advice? No... I mean, I have wood rot issues to deal with in my OWN house before I start buying up Park Place and Marvin Gardens.)

Why do we all love the real estate topic so much? Is it because it's really the only way most people are going to make real money in their lifetimes? Is it the status anxiety issue? Once we realize we have average jobs and average lives and average happiness, are we turning to our homes and children to play out our competitive nature and find some kind of success? Or, is it really just adult Monopoly? Watching your own stock rise, so to speak?

Are you or any of your friends obsessed with real estate?
Do you know people with second homes who jaw on about it?
Do you know people who had a questionable loan and lost it during this housing recession?
Do you size yourself up to your friends and their places?
Would you say that most of your friends and family have a better/worse house than you?

Discuss.

44 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am so elderly I went through this once already in the late '80s (the whole rise-and-fall thing). By now, I'm kind of burnt out on the whole topic.

But I agree it's fun to look up those records: like legalized spying!

lk said...

I'll admit that I'm real estate obsessed. I have been for a while, and I'm not really sure why. In the beginning, part of it was hating paying rent and not being able to do things like renvoate and paint... but now that I own I definitely compare what I have to those around me (and am guilty of having looked up my neighbor's assessments)

I'm the only one in my group of friends that owns, and I'll admit that it makes e feel sligtly better than them. (God, i sound like a horrible person!)

Anonymous said...

oh LORD, yes! I have huge anxiety due to the fact that I grew up in a neighbourhood and house that I could never ever afford myself. I'm sliding down the real estate status ladder!

I also note that my house value has risen substantially since I bought it in 2002. On one hand, that makes me feel safe and secure. On the other hand, I'm vaguely uneasy knowing that I now live somewhere that I wouldn't have been able to afford if I'd waited a few more years before buying. And I look with frothy-mouthed envy at those whose real estate increases have grown much more than mine; their successes make me feel like a loser and a fool.

Boss said...

I feel like I'm one of the only people who are entirely BORED with the real estate subject. Actually the word bored first implies interest. I was never interested.

Its probably rebellion. My sister and mom can talk about it ad nauseum and thats when I go to my happy place and ignore them. I guess to be truthful I feel sorta superior because (a) real estate takes an enormous amount of work to be profitable (even slum lords have to follow some rules!) and (b) I think renting in a city does not make me a worse person. I don't understand people who want huge houses with huge lawns - its just wasteful and time consuming! I think a renter's city life is wonderfully simple. I'd like to own in the city eventually, but only when I have enough money to pay for the repairs without worrying about it. My parents were always putting us in semi-unfinished homes and it was the *most* uncomfortable way to live growing up. Yeah, great, they made some money but last time I checked money neither bought happiness nor is money necessarily associated with improved quality of life.

So I will continue to feel superior living in a rented apartment where every square inch is used for at least two purposes and will feel slightly superior to people who talk about their houses and their endless remodeling projects that cost them in time, money and peace.

Thanks for this topic - I guess I needed to vent!

Anonymous said...

BINGO! This is a hot button issue since I can in no way afford anything in my state!

Anonymous said...

What I want to know is - who in the hell can afford all the homes I want? I feel as though my husband and make a relatively comfortable, generous combined income and are scared out of our wits to take the plunge.

Most of the time, the fact that we're still renting is embarassing to the max, but I gotta admit that I love to snark on our friends who bought a BN condo, brand new, in 2006. I do believe they paid $700K (Southern California), and recently I discovered that it's dropped more than $100K in value. So there!

Anonymous said...

How do you look up selling prices online? It sounds like yet another obsession/ addiction for me? In the US? Canada? Europe? Anyone know. Ooooh, the hours of sneaky sleuthing that this could allow...

Anonymous said...

boss:

In fact, real estate takes NO work to be enormously profitable, in the right market. People will buy ANYTHING, no matter what shape its in, if the neighborhood is right.

It's the slump markets, like this one, that require sellers to spruce up their places.

beachbungalow8 said...

my idea of what one should pay for a modest sized house in a good area, is so skewed from living in sf and now l.a.

in my 'area', you can't even get a house in compton (a low income area) for less than 700k. and that's for a shanty sitting in a war zone.

Diana said...

I'm currently a renter, but my friends with houses like to talk about real estate and houses they can't afford. Why? I'm feeling hate for all the damn McMansions and cookie cutter housing out there. Where I live - there is LOTS of that since the area is new and growing. Let's do it right the first time people...plan good, well designed houses.

Although, my Mom and I sneak into houses being built...we just wanna look!

simply seleta said...

I love real estate. Best investment out there. I'm married to an attorney/commercial developer and we talk real estate around the clock. We live at the beach and love our place [mainly b.c we snagged it at a great price in a hot development].

Our home in Atlanta is still for sale which is a bummer. Bad market for sellers, great market for buyers. I guess that's a big "duh" since we all know this.

Buying another property would be a great move for you. You can't lose in real estate provided you stay conservative and don't stretch yourself out too much.

Forever Chic said...

As a young twentysomething, real estate discussions with my peer group center around:
1) how we will never ever be able to afford a house in California, especially in the area we grew up in (i.e. i will never be able to move to the Bay Area)
2) how we will probably be renters forever
3) how much our roommates/landlords suck

Yeah, real estate depresses the hell out of me.

My mom enjoys zillow.com though...mostly because she and my dad have a house in a fashionable neighborhood in the Bay Area and the value of their home has skyrocketed since they bought it in the 70s, even when the housing bust is taken into account.

Lisa said...

I am obsessed with real estate, although, I am too chicken to buy another house.

I constantly check how much our house is worth on Zillow and then convince myself that we should do that kitchen remodel. So what if we're going to be the most expensive house on the block. (To date, have not pulled the trigger on the kitchen remodel).

Here's where real estate take a turn for the worse for me. My husband's parents have done well. They have two sons and a daughter, and the two sons are completely responsible. The daughter, not so much. In fact, she quit her job because she didn't like the school she worked at (she's a teacher) and then proceeded to justify taking the entire year off. My in-laws supported her and her husband (because he decided not to work as well), AND - here's the best part - BOUGHT THEM A HOUSE!!!

What does that teach these two? Certainly not anything about financial managment or responsibility (like that one should have a job and not take money from their parents). Oh yeah, did I mention they are 31?

I wish we had gotten help with our downpayment. I'm not even asking for a whole house. But, that's life and while I want to be the bigger person, I can't. Because I'm petty.

Jessica Claire said...

real estate is concrete - a solid investment that will always go up if you buy in the right neighbourhood

I'd rather own a tiny house in a desirable midtown neighbourhood than a mansion in the burbs

Anonymous said...

When I decided to buy a house a year ago, I got obsessed. I stayed on MLS and Zillow and would cross reference with the tax roles pretty constantly. I think it was good research though.

Since I've bought, I don't really look at that kind of stuff. My dad can tell me how much a house costs by driving around the neighborhood once anyway.

He's is a banker to a lot of homebuilders (former homebuilder himself), so growing up we used to drive by or walkthrough subdivisions and houses on the weekends.

I'm more interested in the idea of what my ideal home would look like, and seeing the cool stuff my friends have done with theirs than anything else.

Anonymous said...

I am also obsessed with real estate, I blame it on living (and renting) in NYC and having overdosed on celeb gossip. I thought I was the only one who looked up property assesments on a regular basis. My husband is so sick of hearing me talk about it. He thinks of it as gossiping, I think it as "information gathering" so that when its my turn I am prepared - I guess its whatever makes you feel better.

Elizabeth said...

I use the parcel finder in King County which allows me to cruise around any neighborhood. So fun and such a guilty pleasure of mine. My husband thinks I'm nosey, but I'm just curious how our home stacks up against others in similar hoods.

http://www.metrokc.gov/gis/mapportal/PViewer_main.htm

I'm looking at real estate almost daily, I'm obsessed.

perchance said...

Owning an interiors shop for 7 years in an upscale area has left me with quite a few great stories about unabashed social climbing. One man came to buy his wife a birthday gift and proudly announced his move from a fourth-tier to a third-tier neighborhood (by his assessment). He then told me his ten-year plan to buy and sell his way into the "top" neighborhood in the area. Lovely.

Decorno said...

In Seattle (King County, actually) this is the link to use to look up property values:


http://www5.kingcounty.gov/kcgisreports


You can also try www.zillow.com, which I find overstates values either a little or a lot. Some people say that your county's assessment is conservative, so maybe the true value is somewhere in between (... the real value, of course, is whatever you are lucky enough to see it for).

To find a similar link in your area, you should google your city/county name and "property report" "assessment" or something similar. A little clicking around should help you find it.

Have fun. Don't get too addicted.

morrismore said...

I live in Woodside, a small town south of San Francisco; the conversations about what other people spent on real estate are non-stop. The number one topic, though, is what other folks have (from the five-acre man made lake that Larry Ellison built on his property to the escape tunnels that another billionaire had built on his) on their properties and in their houses. What I find fascinating, though, is the relative absence of conversation about the subject of style and living with style in these houses. It’s crazy—people pay millions of dollars for their houses, and millions more to furnish them, and yet so often it’s just this very expensive ordinariness.

My job is linked to the residential real estate market, and I’m obsessed with architecture and interior design, so I guess it’s not all that surprising that many of my friends are architects, interior designers or realtors. Still, this obsession about what others have and what it cost seems to be always present in those who have no connection to these industries.

Anonymous said...

We bought a townhome about 2 years ago and I looked up all of our neighbors AFTER we bought it (so stupid). It made me sick to see that we paid on the high end of what everyone else paid. I love our townhome, so it kind of makes up for it, but it Zillow states it's dropped 10k!

Anonymous said...

Next up:

--Kid Anxiety

--Sexual/Marital Anxiety

Anonymous said...

I have a bad habit of checking out the places I didn't buy and kicking myself. For years I have beat myself up for not purchasing a condo in Denver for $35K in 1994 because I didn't like the countertop. I know STUPID STUPID STUPID. I was 23, what the hell did know. Anyhow this has always haunted me and I recently looked it up. Turns out it took a year to sell and sold again in 2005 for $68K. It made me feel better that is hadn't jumped as much as I thought it would have. Granted it was still a mistake but not as bad as it could have been. I am trying to ignore the fact that I have much more than that in rent over the years.

Of course while I was looking I also checked out the prices of everyone else's places.

Anonymous said...

Well I'm now suicidal thanks to zillow. And if Decorno is right and they overstate, I'm completely freaking out. My house is worth $60,000 less than what I paid for it. Meanwhile, all my friends homes are apparently increasing by the minute. Why me?

Decorno said...

Don't jump, anon. And put the pills down. No suicides on my watch.

We're coming off the tail end of a housing boom. The market is correcting. Think long term. I bet you plan to stay there a while. Your house will increase in value over time. Do not worry. Seriously.

Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot, Decorno! I didn't even know about zillow and now I've spent 45 minutes going through my address book. Most everyone is richer than I thought they were.
Status anxiety for sure!

Jen said...

I'm real estate obsessed, but I work in the industry and my husband is a homebuilder. Fortunately we have escaped the bust in our area (mostly because we never had a boom). We have worked our asses off and have quietly acquired two rental properties. It's a great investment and gives us security knowing that if we need the money, we can always sell those homes and walk away with some great equity.
Also, I work in corporate relocations and have tons of clients in areas where the markets are tanking. Here's some professional advice, if you plan to be in the home long-term, don't stress yourself out if the value has dipped - the market has a way of leveling itself out. If you're buying, congratulations - you can get a great home and good interest rates! If you want/need to sell, just suck it up and don't overprice your home. It's not worth what it was 6 months ago.
I find that county tax assessors are generally lower than real estate market value and find that zillow is usually way off (I've seen highs and lows) because they never seem to account for any upgrades/changes made to the property.

Anonymous said...

I have to admit I'm a little obsessed, My girlfriend is a real estate agent and I'm in sales, so I like the industry.

As a single parent, I invested in a brownstone 8 years ago because I had the money, thought it was a good investment, but most of all, it was my dream home. (my big design money pit!) As it turns out, the house is now worth double. But as I recently discussed with my neighbor, it really doesn't matter because this is our home and we're not moving anywhere. so basically who cares?

It gives me a bit of security knowing that I can have a nest egg, but as a Latina woman who's parents never owned their home I think it is really important to own something on a number of different levels.

My experience has been that women are raised to feel differently about finances. So I have encouraged many of my friends to take the plunge and make it happen. It has given me a bit of esteem boost. and the house is gorgeous so I get bragging rights too.....

we bought my mom a her first house at the age of 72. its never too late, it was her dream come true.

and now we both obsess together over the market.....high end problems.......

Meg said...

that house is in Madison Park on McGilvra, isn't it? It would give anyone real estate anxiety. It gives me feelings of inadequacy AND jealousy every time I go past it, that's for sure.

Anonymous said...

well, I did the zillow.com thing and my house is underappraised by over 50% on the website (I know this because we had 2 appraisals about a year ago for a huge remodel/refinance shindig we did--had to fix some structural issues from a bad contractor and decided to make chicken salad out of chicken shit) I looked up some other homes in our neighborhood and some were on and some were way off. So I guess I'm saying, don't freak out if you don't agree with them--numbers may not correspond to present reality.

decorno said...

Meg - you nailed it. Some of these Seattle homes kill me. It's easy to forget the money around here when it's nothing but Nalgene water bottles, North Face vests and women wearing nothing but Chapstick. Urban hippies... hiding their buckets of Amazon/Microsoft/Starbucks money. Oy.

But Meg, my friend, if you are driving past it, you must live nearby, so life must be pretty good for you. :) I love that neighborhood.

decorno said...

Anon 7:14. I love your story. I love that your place has DOUBLED. I love that you bought your mom a house. You're everything that is good about real estate and why people should buy & hold.

Seriously, you are an inspiration to a lot of people, I am sure.

The Liz Army said...

Most of my friends from work are married with dual incomes and have larger/more expensive homes than I do.

Very few of my friends outside of work (that are my own age – 28) have their own places.

I have a 1,200 sq. ft. condo/townhome all by myself and I am happy that I got it all by myself. I should be here for a while so I am not concerned with the market as it is now.

At least, that's what I tell myself.

Anonymous said...

I used to rent in Madison Park and dream buying anything down there. In 2002 there was a house a block off the lake for $280K - a 1 bedroom, 830 sq ft house on a half lot. It seemed so expensive to me at the time but sold in 2006 for $660K.

marlazz said...

Real estate is one of the few things I'm not anxious about.

We live in a modest almost-paid off 2400 sq ft home in a north Toronto suburb. I think the interior of my house is quite stylish, but the outside has hardly been touched and needs a lot of work. My younger sister has a much bigger, fully decorated and landscaped house a few blocks away. I've accepted it, and I'm proud of her. We walk around and admire and 'critique' the mansions nearby together.

I do love living where I live. I think Jessica commented she would much rather live in a tiny home in midtown than a manse in the burbs, but well... We love it here. The kids spend the afternoons biking and playing with their friends outside and I don't worry much. The yoga studio and bootcamp are a few blocks away. I'm surround by grocery stores and several Starbucks (don't go there anyway). There are several restaurants and a movie theatre that we can walk to.

So, I guess I don't have any real estate envy. The other stuff, don't get me started.

Anonymous said...

My husband is obsessed with looking at houses for sale online. We just BOUGHT a house and he's still looking.

Our house is great and we got a good deal (relatively) but I still have horrible twinges when I hear about friends and the cute little cottage they're going to look at -- WHAT IF IT'S BETTER THAN OUR HOUSE?! What if I have buyer's remorse?! (Never mind that we felt so excited and lucky to get this house, which has a view, since we weren't sure we'd ever find anything we could stand to live in and also afford.)

I tend to feel poor most of the time -- we really aren't, but a lot of our friends seem to have houses that are slightly bigger that they managed to put huge down-payments on. Yikes. It makes us feel really like we didn't have our shit together. But we can pay our mortgage, so, that's all that matters.

Anonymous said...

I have also vowed not to discuss prices I've paid for really major purchases with anyone... unless anonymously on Decorno, of course.

When I lived in NYC, everyone wanted to know, within minute of meeting me, exactly where in the city I lived and what was the square footage of my apartment and what I paid for it. Like a ninny, I told them, only to hear again and again and again how much LESS they and their friends were paying and how I was getting totally ripped off. Of course that just made me feel stupid and callow and like a wasteful person.

Lesson learned. If people want to know what I paid for my house, they can look it up online, but I'm not going to tell them, only to be regaled by stories of how much better than I everyone else is farng in their real estate transactions. This is one way I'm trying to opt out of the who Anxiety part of the equation.

Anonymous said...

None of my friends have bought houses yet so we spend our time sitting around naming suburbs that are too expensive for us to live in and bemoaning the fact that we're all going to have to buy ugly pre-fab cookie-cutter shacks stuck out in the sticks 100kms from the city. We used to be able to afford Narre Warren (or Nazza Wazza as we like to call it) but now we can't even afford Narre Warren SOUTH. It's so depressing.

Anonymous said...

I LOVE MY HOUSE!! I SOLD MY BIGGER HOUSE TO MOVE INTO A LARGE CONDO WITH A FIRST FLOOR BEDROOM, 2 CAR GARAGE, TWO 2ND FLOOR BEDROOMS AND A HUGE BASEMENT THAT HAS A BIG GAME ROOM WITH POOL TABLE, AND 2 FINISHED ROOMS OFF OF IT( ONE IS MY HUSBANDS GYM.) ..AND THE BEST IT IS PAID FOR..BUT I AM SCARED MY HUSBAND MIGHT LOSE HIS JOB..AND WE WILL HAVE TO SELL IT AND SCALE DOWN ...
WHAT RELLY SCARES ME IS THAT WE SEEM TO BE GOING DOWN THE LADDER INSTEAD OF UP...I NEVER WANTED A BIG HOUSE I GREW UP IN ONE AND IT WAS SCARY WHEN MY PARENTS WENT OUT..LOTS OF WIERD NOISES LOTS OF ,WINDOWS ETC..NEVER LIKED LIVING IN A BIG HOUSE..AS A CHILD ALWAYS WANTED A PERFECT DECORATED SMALL HOUSE..WHICH I HAVE AND HOPE TO KEEP!
I ALSO HAVE MY JUST GRADUATED FROM COLLEGE DAUGHTER AND BOYFRIEND LIVING WITH US BECAUSE THEY CAN'T FIND JOBS (SHE HAS ONE THAT PAYS $150.00 A WEEK -WHOOPIE)..SO THE 2 BEDROOMS UPSTAIRS COME IN HANDY...I PRAY THAT THEY CAN FIND JOBS AND MOVE TO THEIR OWN PLACE SOON

Anonymous said...

So you have to yell about it?

Lisa said...

I always check out Zillow, I love it!!! And I too drive by houses and try to remember the numbers so I can check them later, too funny.

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Kelly@TearingUpHouses said...

ohmygoodness. oh.my.goodness. i have soooo much to say on this topic that i would NOT know where to start. just read my blog. if anyone wants my thoughts email me. the short of it is, to me it's all business, no status. it's how i make the money to play (renovate). but the point of this topic is so relevent to where i'm "playing" (south florida).

excellent post. excellent comments. and adult monopoly? perhaps.

kelly