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at play in the fields of the realtors
the circle of a realtor’s life as the bubble bursts
by robert a. melos
8.6.07
pop culture

And it came to pass a time of great devastation followed by a very long season of great prosperity occurred, and it encourage personal wealth and property ownership, and turned ordinary people into buyers, investors, and real estate magnets.

They came out of the concrete and asphalt jungles, out of the rural and suburban wastelands, seeking to improve their lives. They sought out the soothsayers and the financial wizards; the mortgage brokers, and the cherubim and seraphim of property acquisition; the realtors. Some shunned the conventional ways and struck out on their own, seeking the elusive “deal,” the bargain that would make them the envy of their friends and wealthy beyond their wildest dreams, without the guidance of the mysterious realtors. They approached the home owners anxious to unload a property for a profit without paying homage to the false prophets in their yellow jackets, or those floating above the crowds in their hot air balloons, or even the prophets with no corporate affiliations. The wild ones, as they were called, associated with FSBOs (pronounced Fizz-bows), and circumnavigated the natural order of things that they would expand their own profit margins.

It began in 2001, shortly after the attacks of September 11th. The world went crazy. Everyone wanted everything immediately. There was potentially going to be no tomorrow, so the concept of waiting until you had enough to afford your dreams was poo poo’ed by the masses, and instant gratification was the cry of the day. Young urbanites, renters paying astronomical fees to landlords in order to live in a slum, were discovering that just 30 minutes outside of the city, most any city, rentals were cheaper.

Not only were rentals cheaper, but so were mortgages. After all, why not own where you live if you can get something twice the size of your city dwelling for the same or less money than you were paying in the city? And if you already lived in the “burbs” why not own instead of paying your landlord to do nothing for you and ignore you every time you had a complaint?

The frenzy to have it all right away was underway. If you grew up in a 4 BR, split, with garage and family room, in-ground pool, and an acre of land that took your parents 30 years to pay off and cost them the equivalent of what you were being asked to pay for a used car, then why not get what your parents built up to all at once. Don’t wait because the world could end tomorrow, or on any given Thursday.

The mortgage brokers and realtors drank in the swarm of fresh buyers in the early days. The home owners who were looking for a profit on their now rundown 4BR split with a garage and family room, on just a tad under an acre, give or take a half, who converted their family room and half their garage into an in-law suite AKA a room for mom, all realizing the precarious position they were facing with potential repairs to make their houses worth what they were asking, quickly raised their asking prices by twenty then fifty and even one hundred percent, naturally taking half of that raise, but getting half more than they knew their properties were worth.

The banks, in a rush to make up for the great losses of the 1980s, a sting many bankers still felt, readily ignored the lessons of the 80s crashes, and began loosening mortgage requirements, opening up the fields of potential ownership to many who due to bad credit or dodgy work histories, or lack of down payments, would otherwise be shutout of the market. Many were helped into their first homes at reasonable interest rates.

The values kept going up. Suddenly refinancing was the rage. After all, the house you bought last year doubled in value this year, and you suddenly had equity, a lot of equity, all waiting for you to use it; and what better way of using it than to borrow against the equity in order to purchase an investment property. You couldn’t lose. Your profits were doubling as you filled out the paperwork.

The values throughout the lands went up. Up. Up. Up. Everyone was warning that what goes up must come down, but the naysayers, the ones who were riding high on the equity of their homes, and investment properties, and their investment upon their investment properties, and their vacation homes, were stoned on the euphoria of a thought that the good times would never end.

How could it end? How could it all come crashing down? War didn’t discourage buyers, or profiteering sellers flipping houses faster than burgers at McDonalds. Government scandals didn’t frighten this new breed of investor. The world could end on Thursday, any Thursday, and the rule of “he who dies with the most wins” still applied.

The realtors, those cherubim and seraphim of property acquisition, famous for having their heads in the clouds of profit illusion, along with the Machiavellian machinations of greedy mortgage brokers, cast their spells over throngs of buyers now extending their buying power to include the equity in their to be purchased home in order to afford that slightly bigger, slightly better, envy of every asswipe who slighted you in your life, home.

It was no longer a question of what you wanted to pay, but just how much could you afford? And how much beyond your price range would you reach in order to be that person everyone looked up to as a home owner? Borrowing a little extra from mom and pop was okay. After all, didn’t pop tell you you’d never amount to anything? Now with his help you would amount to being his equal; and wouldn’t it feel great to rub that in his face (until he reminded you where you got the extra fifty grand to begin with)?

And the values went even higher. Even the cherubim and seraphim were beginning to worry, but they floated above the clouds of dissent and naysayers, and besides, they needed that new convertible in sea foam green.

The real estate market survived several stock market tumbles, and the realtors flourished. The warning signs went unheeded and then—then the unthinkable happened. Pop!

The bubble burst, and the buyers, many who felt they had missed the boat a few years ago, saw a new opportunity. The cycle was now once again at a beginning. The lessons of the market place will once again go unheeded, and a new breed of buyer and seller are already emerging. Profits are going to be down, way down, for a long time, but the hungry buyers are discovering they can feed on the sellers who have placed themselves in marginal positions, like jackals feed on a downed zebra.

Some describe it as the realtor’s circle of life; others call it just another day. Some lose their innocence and their taste for blood.

These are the fields in which I play. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by the savagery of what goes on between buyer, seller, realtor, mortgage broker, lawyer, home inspector, and sometimes I’m amused by it. I’m no angel, but this was my song.


ABOUT ROBERT A. MELOS

Robert is the author of the novels Cool Mint Blue, Melba Ridge, and the recently released The Adventures of Homosexual Man and Lesbian Lad; and the creator of the on-line comix Impure Thoughts found at his web site Inside R.A. Melos, as well as having been an on-line staff writer for QBliss where he had a monthly humor column, Maybe A Yip, Maybe A Yap. In his non-writing time, when he's not studying the metaphysical or creating a tarot deck, he sells real estate in Middlesex County New Jersey, hangs out with his dog Zeus, and spends time at the Pride Center of New Jersey in Highland Park, NJ, where he is on the Board of Trustees.

more about robert a. melos

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