I’m a dinosaur and I know it. I find looking at computer screens onerous, probably because my eyes are bi-focaled now and many hours of strain gives me a headache. I like books I can hold in my hands and newspapers made out of printed rag.
I buy tons of books but currently subscribe to only a few trade magazines and the weekend edition of the local newspaper. There are other things I’d like to pursue besides being an information dump. I like the weekend paper; it’s enough “news” strung together to suit me, told with a local twist. I read it all, even the sports page.
Lately I’ve been puzzling over strange articles that have been appearing in the painfully thin real estate section of the last few months’ Sunday Detroit Free Press. There on the second page of the section is a weekly article on recent celebrity real estate sales in Los Angeles. This week’s home sales included word of Penelope Cruz and Debi Mazar unloading their homes. Last week Ed O’Neill's transaction grabbed the spotlight.
What’s odd about the article is that it’s usually juxtaposed with a full page of Michigan foreclosures on Page 3. There’s something ironic and disturbing about the news of the rich and famous touting the sales of their mega-million-dollar homes when the next page features fairly nice houses being sold for pennies on the dollar. Some of the asking prices are so pitifully low, one could put the purchase on a credit card.
There’s a 2,350-mile Grand Canyon of an abyss between the real estate markets of the Mitten State and LaLaLand.
My children live in California, so I’m well aware of the glaring differences between the real estate markets of our two states. My home would be worth a couple million bucks (or more) in San Francisco; at this point it’s worth about $200K and the value is still plummeting. My grass alone is a premium feature and would be highly prized on the Left Coast. Add the fruit trees, Asian-inspired garden and vegetable plot, and my modest home starts to look positively star-like.
Alas, it's sitting in a suburb of a city with miles of vacant or burned out land and a 30% (my guess, an inflated figure) commercial occupancy. It might be an oasis, but it ain't worth much.
California may be suffering from the same financial mess we are looking at in Michigan, but the Golden State isn’t even close to hitting bottom yet. California freeways are still jammed, the sun shines and the beaches are packed. Fiscal life is tenuous but it’s still buzzing. Home prices have stagnated but have not suffered the crushing free-fall of the Rust Belt. Where else can you buy a house for $500 but here in Michigan? Sure, it might be stripped down and bank-owned, and sure, it might be in an unappealing ‘hood in Detroit, but it’s still four walls and a plot of land.
Perhaps the article was chosen from hundreds of others to fill a gaping hole in the paper. Hardly anyone places ads in newspapers anymore, instead choosing to list online. Why spend money when you can get free promotions on Craigslist? Perhaps it’s meant to be a comfort for all those visiting actors who come here because of the cushy tax incentives. (Drew Barrymore to assistant: “Oh, look! Britney Spears sold her house for $10 million!” Glances to next page. “Oh, look! A six-bedroom house in Detroit for only $20K! Eww… I can’t wait to go home.”)
Perhaps someone wants to rub our collective noses into our situation. We are not the chi-chi elite of the Left Coast. We’re trapped here in the Land of Steady Decline. I can’t tell you how many people I know who have moved for job or health reasons, thinking they could sell their homes. After a year or two of trying, there are only two options: come back to Michigan or let the bank take the home.
Last week, I wrote to the Free Press. My intention was to find out what possessed the editor to include this series in a Michigan paper. Who besides me reads the article on real estate in Southern California? Who wants to know?
So far, no response.