Perspective on Real Estate

May 7, 2003

May 14, 2003

June 4, 2003

America: the great escape

The jobless "recovery" continues toward the summer doldrums when thoughts of vacation evolve from long, tiring, daily commutes.

It used to be that the elders were the only ones who gave much thought to summer scenes of fishing, golf and traveling. Now, the large worker-bee population, tired of gathering pollen through auto exhaust, considers Thursday the beginning of the weekend as they dream of the upcoming vacation. It's no longer a slam-dunk: "shall I risk breathing in an airplane cabin or should we drive to some hidden place that's just been featured on the travel page," knowing that a million people have made the same discovery or "should we stay home and see what Costco or Home Depot are featuring to take away idle time?" or "should we just buy that second home in the forest or mountain or golf course or lake" as so many have been doing.

Studies, which I have made through the years, proved that families look at these as long-term keeps, longer than the primary homes, for so many wonderful memories come along with the family vacation home. My youth is filled with such images of sharing New Jersey summers with grandparents, parents and favorite uncles, aunts and cousins. Real estate is far more than investing money -- it is where we invest precious time and share escapism with an expanding portion of humanity.

As "home" has become more a pleasure palace of environmental sustainability -- where the latest appliances, electronic security and recreational amenities compete for discretionary time and family togetherness -- it has grown larger and more expensive.

As I travel from city to city, I always have clients and denizens drive around neighborhoods showing me where the rich live, the nouveau-riche are moving, and the surprises as the sociology expands to former "wrong side of the tracks, and Easterners become Southerners, and the Sunbelt becomes America's home."

I see America changing, becoming older, more escapist, more self-indulgent. I have also concluded that America (actually anyone with a TV) has become the collective audience for PowerPoint presentations of opinions and the news, as if at a business conference. There is a seamless joining of news, fantasy, opinion and rumor as the audience is shocked, awed and entertained. I challenge us to tell the difference between one and the others.

While we wait for the weekend or summer, we conjugate the statistics as good, better, worse, unexpectedly bad, for they change and are revised as if they were food that is good for you or bad for you, depending on whose column we read that day. The latest stats (April) inform or deform us that even the fast-growing Inland Empire has slowed down dramatically and added only 10,100 new jobs, while San Diego's economic engine huffed and puffed a drop of 1,300 jobs, manufacturing continued its plunge by 4,500 jobs. Our kissing cousin, Orange County, lost 1,600 jobs, while Los Angeles dropped 25,500.

The "golden state" lost 24,300 jobs as the politicos sought whom to blame, since that is their apparent role between elections. ("Between elections" is the briefest measurement of time we know.) The San Francisco area dropped 21,500 jobs while Oakland rose by 5,100 and Silicone Jose wandered through another 44,800 job losses in its hemorrhaging of high-tech gone low.

These are statistics, however, I think of them as individuals whose loss is translated into pain and humiliation.

But the cost of homes keeps climbing as the disconnect between the re-financeable and the homeless grows into deep crisis.

Numbers are statistics, but analysis tells us what a cultural shock we are traveling. We brag about other places losing more jobs, getting lower rents than we are -- as if that makes us better. Better is thanking God that we are not the worst, but capable of becoming so much better. The use of brains is often inhibited by patting ourselves on the back while we whisper, "better him than me." Maturity is when someone else feels our pain and tries to create a solution for no apparent reward.

Goodkin has been a business ethicist and housing analyst since 1956. He may be reached at

May 7, 2003

May 14, 2003

June 4, 2003