Friday, March 17, 2006

New viewers: Like a Christopher Nolan film, this blog is designed to be read backwards. For the full weight of the convincing argument please start reading from the earliest post (debt is wealth) to the newest.

These are exciting times for this blogger. My fame has spread to such an extent that I was recently interviewed by a major business magazine which I can't name. So for the sake of this discussion I'll call it Norbes Magazine. I don't know when they're printing the article but this morning the author e-mailed me a copy which I'm including below.

Bubble or No Trouble at all? The Experts Decide.
By Sally O'Tool

All across America real estate investors are pondering the question: is there a housing bubble? To answer this question we interviewed 4 of the nation's leading unbiased real estate experts: David Lereah, economist; Leslie Appleton-Young, economist; Gary Watts, a highly respected real estate observer; and a man who goes by the name "Buck" that runs a popular Internet blog called There Is No Housing Bubble!

(Editor's note: for space reasons I deleted the wonderful, touching, and poetic words of Mr. Lereah, Watts, and Ms. Appleton-Young.)

For a different perspective we contacted the owner of a blog called There Is No Housing Bubble! which has taken the Internet by storm. In its short lifespan it has rocketed up the Alexa charts to become the 12th most visited blog on the Internet. As the website's title indicates, "Buck" doesn't believe there is or ever was a housing bubble.

Norbes: First off, tell us a bit about your background. Are you in the real estate profession? For how long? And why the pseudonym?
Buck: Yes I am an experienced real estate professional, the kind of person smart customers seek out for my wisdom and depth of market knowledge. I've been an agent for almost 2 1/2 years now, all of which has been in the hot Southern California market -- the trenches of the future as I like to call it. Like most people in the industry I got my start as an adult film actor, so the transition to real estate was a natural and smooth one. As for the pseudonym, unfortunately there are a lot of angry renters out there. I've already had 2 attempts on my life since starting the blog (although one of which might have just been a misunderstanding between me and the drive through cashier). So the less these people know about me the safer I am.

Norbes: You've really sacrificed a lot to spread your message of economic opportunity to the masses. What caused you to launch your career as an Internet pundit?
Buck: It is hard for me to tell this story without choking up. Please bear with me. It was the winter of 2005, around Christmas time. I was showing a beautiful and striking example of early 20th century architecture in East Los Angeles to a young couple. He was a mortgage broker and she was an appraiser. They had a young 3 year old daughter. They were an ideal couple to move into this gentrifying, up and coming neighborhood. Being the financially savvy people you'd expect, they were concerned whether they could afford this home. Even with an option loan and making the minimum payment they wouldn't have much left over for other expenses. Buying this house would be a major lifestyle change and they were not sure if they had the courage to make that decision. And then, as often is the case, a young child imparts wisdom to her parents. The little girl said "mommy, I asked Santa to bring me a house for Christmas instead of toys. Do you think Santa can fit a house in his sleigh?" With that the parents looked at each other and told her they were sure Santa could fit a house in his sleigh. They made an offer that afternoon and after the obligatory bidding war they are now starting their new life together in their Christmas present. I remember thinking to myself what good people they were to assure their daughter's future by buying this home. Later that evening I went online and came across some real estate bubble websites. I was angry. What if this couple had read these lies? Would they have still bought that home? I doubted it for the lies were convincing in a nuanced way. I knew I had to take action, to stop the lies, and stand up for all the children whose future is in peril of these demonic bubble blowers.

Norbes: You seem to have a lot of animosity towards the housing bubble advocates. Why?
Buck: Several reasons. One, because they try to use fear to cause people to make an irrational decision when the fact is: if they don't buy now they'll be priced out forever. Second, real estate is a proven winner. As all of your experts pointed out, they ain't making any more land but they sure are making a lot of babies. And using Darwin's laws of supply and demand, prices of land will always go up. I defy anyone to show me someone who purchased a home in California and over a 30 year time span lost money on the transaction. They can't because it has never happened. In fact, over any 30 year time span you'll see the home owner made a small fortune. However these bubble headed liars claim it is different this time. That somehow the future will be different this time. Beware of anyone who claims "it is different this time." Thirdly, there is a new paradigm in this country. We are moving along well known economic laws, from an industrial economy, to a service economy, to a real estate economy. We are in the beginning stages of this new economy and new times call for new thinking.

Norbes: You are a big proponent of using your home's equity to leverage the purchase of other homes. Is that risky?
Buck: Let me tell you the story of a man named Charles. Charles lived in the early 20th century and devised a new financial strategy. He would use current revenues to pay current obligations and count on the appreciation of revenues to pay future obligations. This scheme was so successful that millions of dollars poured into his investment fund and eventually this technique become so popular that the US government uses it to pay for our nation's retirement plan (social security). Do you think the US government would use risky accounting methods to assure its citizens of their retirement money? I don't think so. So what I want to do is show people how they can use this time tested financial technique for their own profit. But first they must change their thinking. They are not buying a home, instead they are gaining control of a revenue stream. That stream of money can be managed to produce more and more wealth. It is the engine of your prosperity and all it needs for you to do is to be brave enough to turn the key. Will you turn your key?

Norbes: How do you respond to critics who say home prices have gotten out of sync with incomes?
Buck: With a four letter word. Just kidding. Seriously, these critics are looking at the problem with outdated ideas. It is different this time and requires different thinking. People who own homes have 2 revenue streams to work with. 1) their regular job income. This is a paltry and declining sum in today's world. 2) their home's appreciation. In most California markets the home owner is making another $30-100K a year in their home's appreciation. Once you factor that income stream in today's homes are extremely affordable. And as prices rise, the appreciation rises in real terms (although in percentage terms it might stay very flat). Therefore homes become MORE affordable as they become more expensive due to this secondary revenue stream. Bubble advocates never factor in this second income into their affordability figures. With that factored in everyone can afford a home, from the CEO all the way down to a farm worker and everyone in between.

Norbes: Do you believe it is a good time to buy?
Buck: Now is a great time to buy. In fact, it is the best time to buy. I have over 100 highly coveted properties that I can show this afternoon. I know most real estate agents have similar portfolios too. You can be like a kid in a candy story and cherry pick the finest homes made by the skilled artisans of Mexico that this nation has to offer and get them while they are still at ground floor prices. Believe me when I say you won't see prices like this in 5 years. You'll get down on your knees and beg to buy a home at these prices.

And there you have it. Four experts, four opinions, and one consensus -- now is a great time to buy a home.