Sunday, February 24, 2008

Italian Beef, Birthday Cake and the Sluggish Housing Market

I took Ann to the birthday party of a fellow preschooler today, held at the girl's house early in the afternoon. Since other adults were there, along with some tasty lunch options -- especially Italian beef from Portillo's -- I was persuaded to stay for the length of the party. At age 5, parties don't drag out that long, just over two hours, so it wasn't bad at all.

I'm happy to report that among the adults, and probably the kids too, the subject of the Oscars didn't come up once. I'll take that as the mark of a healthy apathy about the event here in Middle America.

In such situations, one's line of work does come up, and over the years I've discovered (1) people are unaccountably interested in my real estate writing, mostly because (2) they don't make the distinction between residential and commercial real estate. Since I first wrote about real estate more than 20 years ago, I can count quickly -- maybe up to five -- the number of times I've written about the market for single-family houses (apartments count as commercial as well as residential, because as buildings they are usually bought and sold by investors who don't live there; and condos can be partly considered commercial because their development is similar to apartments). The single-family market isn't what I cover, and the same holds true for most commercial real estate journalists.

Of course, residential housing affects commercial markets, sometimes directly (new retail tends to follow new houses) and sometimes indirectly, such as the contagion from the subprime meltdown, which was precipitated by the fact that once upon a time (until about a year ago), anyone who could fog a mirror could get a residential mortgage.

I'm used to this kind of interest in real estate, so I answer questions about the residential market as best as I can, politely. Mainly what I say comes down to this: the market's going to fluctuate.


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