Anyone Seen the Joneses Lately?

Mc Mansion

OK, maybe that’s an uncharitable remark, but I am not sure that this dreaded economic ‘down turn’ on the horizon is really such a bad thing.  Seems like some of the most visible people feeling this crunch right now are some of our more ostentatious neighbors.  Obviously energy costs have skyrocketed and of course, everyone is affected by the cost of energy. But the big news right now is the ‘crisis’ in the housing market and all the foreclosures on those luxury homes. There seem to be plenty of reasons for this, not the least of them being fallout over the current mortgage ‘crisis’. But let’s take a look at what’s been happening;

1.) Across the country, people have been buying super-sized homes that are both impractical and terribly expensive.  Here in central Maryland the typical 4 person family lives in a home bigger than the one that sheltered Jed, Granny, Ellie Mae and Jethro. Last year the median price of houses in my home town shot well beyond half a million dollars and Million Dollar plus homes are very common. Remember, this isn’t Beverly Hills.

2.) Apparently people could buy these giant homes because of all the creative variable-rate lending schemes the banks came up with to get folks into houses that no sane person would have considered just a few years ago. It seems that many of these buyers were more interested in real estate speculation than long term shelter because they were always trading up. Everyone was making big profits off of the insane inflation of home prices.

3.) When the new loan rates kicked in the money was not there – the price ceiling had been hit, hard. The anticipated equity was not realized, people could not sell their expensive homes at the much needed profit so loans were being defaulted on. Not only that, in some cases the cost of heating and cooling these big houses doubled. The American dream had become an albatross around the necks of many.

4.) Housing prices in our area (at least for the very expensive luxury homes) are falling like rocks. Houses have been sitting on the market for months and months when only last year offers were being made before the FOR SALE signs were up on the lawns.


Now this is bad news, for people who paid too much for their homes as well as for realtors, home builders, mortgage lenders and those businesses that service them. It’s not necessarily bad news for teachers, police and emergency personnel, nurses, restaurant and retail managers, pastors and many other people who make up what we call the middle class. In my county very few of the people who serve the community can afford to live in the community. And for a young couple starting out (like my daughter and her fiance’ plan on doing in a couple of years ) there are very few places within 30 miles that even offer affordable rents. With this “recession” on the way there is a glimmer of hope that some of these people might finally be able to buy a home that they can afford. Perhaps not, we may have already let loose a genie that cannot be rebottled.

The talk of my town is how everyone’s property rates are falling and how this has hurt our financial portfolios. My family is being ‘hurt’ here as well. But if we move, it will be to trade down, in attempt to make our lives more affordable. (If we hadn’t bought our house 15 years ago we would never have been able to live in what is a fairly modest town home.) We may lose money on this end but then whatever we purchase will also be less expensive.

Naturally, we are all concerned about losing any of the financial investments we have made in our homes. But I wonder if we have done this investing at the cost of our communities.

row houses


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  1. #1 by Christian on February 5, 2008 - 9:44 am

    OK, point taken. Sorry. But let me ask you to do the same. Perhaps there is a policeman or teacher in Howard county who is reading this post and looking forward to one of these condos that are going for $200 K (which would put their 30 year payment right around $1350, excluding taxes. (Try finding a house in Baltimore County or even the City for around $200K – it ain’t easy.) But not too many make the necessary income. In 2006 the US Census bureau placed the median national income at $48,201.00. Essentially we have made it nearly impossible for MOST people in Maryland to purchase a home without two incomes (such as my family) and this is something that much of the vocal church laments. “Woman’s place is in the home” and all that.

    Look, I miss the way that the area has changed and grown up as well – I actually protested the housing development next to my own. All those beautiful woods and they created a sound buffer between my home and the highway. But I realized that this was selfishness on my part and somewhat hypocritical. My development used to be the old Pulte farm we used play on when I was a kid.

    Elkridge? The armpit of Howard County? Isn’t that like saying Hollywood is the poor step sister to Bel Air? (CA not MD) 🙂

  2. #2 by BuddyO on February 5, 2008 - 10:07 am

    I’m not raggin on condos per se. My point is just that $250k for a glorified apartment doesn’t seem like it’s doing anyone any favors and is insulting to the teachers and first responders. What’s next, offering them to buy into a room in a planned group home for $175k? Like Elaine giving the muffin bottoms to the homless after selling the more desireable tops…

    So how do you balance stewardship of The Creation and speaking out against the blind greed of the developers with the desire for people to have affordable homes? I really think something has to be done with the grinding machinery thats chewing up The Creation leaving run down neglected neighborhoods in it’s wake. My home has been recycled repeatedly over the past 103 years. There are TONS of others that could be recycled in our area, but don’t carry the same porfit margin for the developers and maybe don’t fit within the pride (ala Show Value) of many who want to live in HoCo.

    My part of Elkridge is the part of the county they want to keep in the closet. Have you been keeping up with the efforts to ‘revitalize’ Rte 1? Translation: Get rid of all the embararsing industry and business along Rte 1. Daniels biker bar is not the pride of elite HoCoians (they make a great pork chop though). They’re not real thrilled with the food pantry, herion addicts and homless that live here or the hookers that patrol the corner of Rt1 and Montgomery Rd either. The ‘REAL’ Elkridge exists west of 95.

  3. #3 by Christian on February 5, 2008 - 1:01 pm

    Well perhaps I am not as zealous about this situation as I used to be because I am an ex-Luddite – seriously. I was such an anti-growth environmentalist that I used to sabotage- quite illegally- construction sites. I didn’t put sugar in the back hoe’s gas tanks but I did move the surveryor’s flags and markers that delineated where the new roads were to go. I never heard of any bulldozers falling into the creeks where I attempted to re-direct them but one could only hope.

    This development that I speak of was designated historical by the county when Liz Bobo was executive. There was a 150 year old house in great shape as well as a carriage house on the grounds. It was sold and after the zoning commission was bought off the buildings were immediately bulldozed. 99 homes were built on the property eventually, after the developer paid the $10,000 fine. What a slap on the wrist. At least I slowed them down for a couple of days.

    So I know how pissed off I can get about these things as well. But I also have to realize that when you restrict growth it brings the price of housing up. And HoCo does it backwards anyway They dictate that in Western HoCo that you must restrict the develpment to 33 homes per every 100 acres so we have these monstrous McMansions standing on 3 acres of bare pastureland like so many little fiefdoms. What should be done instead is place 33 (or more) smaller, less expensive homes on 33 acres and leave 67 acres as open space. Better quality of life, better for the Bay and better for the economy.

    Aside from the hookers et al (although Jesus seemed to enjoy their company 🙂 ) I happen to like all that nasty and ugly industry along the route 1 corridor. It’s real people doing real work. And we love biker bars in my family. Whenever we travel in the boondocks overnight there are usually few choices for dining – cookie cutter restaurant chains , diners or biker bars. Diners usually have the better food but the beer is colder in the bars. And they are usually pretty darn friendly.

  4. #4 by BuddyO on February 5, 2008 - 1:14 pm

    We like our neighborhood too… especially now that we’re really starting to plug in. Driving 20 minitues (or 30) to church one way for the past 12 years had lead to a disconnect from the community we live in. Now my community is my church is my community.

    The “nasty and ugly” nature of our part of Elkridge is why we keep having to fight these developers jamming hundreds of new homes into the tiniest parcels… We are the ‘back basement room’ of HoCo… you know the one where you stick all the unsightly junk that you don’t have any place else to put…

  5. #5 by Christian on February 5, 2008 - 3:02 pm

    Yep and probably the place with the most ‘reasonable’ land prices left. All you need is a bulldozer and you have instant prime real estate. One reason for that is that farmland is considered to be better for the environment than industrial land but that’s not actually the case.

    But we need places like “Crazy Rays”. I remember a junk yard out near where you grow up – real small place – and I used to buy parts there. Somebody developed the land next door to him and it wasn’t long before some ‘concerned homeowners’ took him to court – said that a junkyard was an eyesore and affected their property values. Fortunately the judge appreciated the fact that the junkyard had been there long before the home owners and did the right thing – threw it out of court and charged the plaintiff court fees.

    I saw a funny thing on Colbert last night. Apparently in Coral Gables Florida it is against the law to park your pick up truck on the street or in the drive way over night. You know what kind of people drive pick up trucks. 🙂 It’s a gateway truck – might lead to dump trucks and swamp buggies. Some guy sued the city and won. Halleluah.

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