Sunday, March 21, 2010

Reality 201 -Something for Nothing

There is no doubt in my mind that Real Estate programs are largely to blame for the disastrous housing bubble around the world. I know they are holding those New York bankers and their sub-prime mortgage schemes responsible, but while they aren’t entirely off my hook, I see culpability in other places too.

Where else, but by watching TV, would people with low paying, vulnerable jobs and no savings get the crazy idea that it’s not only perfectly acceptable to look at three gorgeous properties and sneer at the size of the master bathroom, hold out for granite countertops and stainless steel appliances and a large fenced-in yard with a pool, but that they are actually entitled to have ‘the house of their dreams’.

The concept of buying a home with NO MONEY DOWN is stunning to a person like me, who had to pass on a terrific ‘first house’ forty years ago because we couldn’t scrape together the $5000 required to interest a bank in lending us the remaining $20,000. I see young couples and single men and women who, we now know, will all soon be out of work, blithely signing up for monthly payments of thousands of dollars with NO MONEY DOWN whatsoever, and I know something is definitely amiss. I see deals being made in some states where the mysterious ‘lender’ actually advances even more money than the house is worth to help really disadvantaged buyers. The ones most likely to reneg. What a great idea! And then, encouraged by their real estate agents and the show’s producer, no doubt, they celebrate the ‘owning’ of their new home and the housewarming gift of a couple of chairs and a table that the show's producers have thrown in to sweeten the deal.

Excuse me….they don’t ‘own’ anything. They have NO EQUITY.

Of course, what’s fascinating to me, living in one of the most expensive cities in North America, is seeing what’s available south of the border for the price of an outhouse in Toronto. There is some consolation, I suppose, in seeing that it costs over a million dollars to scoop up a bargain bachelor apartment in Paris, but then, it's Paris. Most of these shows take half an hour to settle the buyers in their dream houses, but an hour is devoted to 'Relocation, Relocation' or whatever it's called, so that pretty Kirstie and her buddy Phil can find TWO ideal properties for their clients to shuttle between, because, we now know, the English need to have a place in the country plus a pad in town in order to survive. I'm not talking about the 'landed gentry' or royalty, here. This 18th Century lifestyle seems to have dribbled down to the 21st Century masses.

Still, it’s the extremely high expectations of the buyers, virgins or sluts, that amaze me. A lot of this can be laid at the doorstep of the other kinds of home shows, the ones where people are told how impossible their tacky houses will be to sell without some curb appeal or de-cluttering. If the place isn’t depersonalized, neutralized, emptied of every pot and pan and soap chip, they have no one to blame but themselves when buyers traipse through complaining about the light fixtures or countertops. These design-show elevated decorating standards blind the ‘lookers’ to the possibility that an inexpensive coat of paint can transform that repulsive purple master bedroom in that 4500 sq. ft. six bedroom 'starter home' so it fully meets their specific criteria for cozy perfection. On this channel, you will also find pretty Sophie Alsop (a younger clone of the aforementioned Kirstie), albeit slightly made over for the American audience. It's as if Stacey got ahold of her on another program and told her 'what to wear'.

And all this sprucing up must be done to a tight deadline, of course, to create drama, because, as anyone knows, who is trying to sell a house in lousy market, time is of the essence.

Is it any surprise, then, that shows shot just last year are featuring a lot of empty mansions in foreclosure (a word never used) which incur lengthy negotiations with heartless banks for ‘dream houses’ which have, obviously become someone else’s nightmare? Are these the homes that suckers bought in last year's episodes and have now walked away from HAVING HAD NO EQUITY? Rest assured, no one has learned anything. Shoppers are still worrying more about the ugly tile in the main floor powder room than the enormous second mortgage payments.

Am I the only one who sees these empty, only slightly lived-in dream houses and wonders where the former owners are living now?
Is anyone grabbing the next opportunity to follow them around with a camera as the repo man descends and they hustle around trying to decide which of three relatives to impose on?

Tune in next season....

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