Is the real-estate bubble bursting?

Mack Reed of L.A. Voice thinks it might be. One thing’s for sure, it can’t go on like this forever, and another catastrophic event (earthquake, oil shock, terrorist attack) could really bust the market down.

What I always say is that the current run-up in home prices is due largely to the lending industry’s radical change in the kinds of loans available. Home prices are based on what you can afford to pay, or what the bank thinks you can afford to pay, with crazy terms such as interest-only, variable-rate, 80 percent principal with 20 percent second, balloon payments, 40-year terms, and more that I don’t even know about. And this is OK for many people because they figure they don’t need to have any real money tied up in the house — equity will fall from the sky in the form of 20 percent and higher yearly appreciation. The best way to tap that equity is to sell and get the hell out of Dodge. But if you need to live somewhere else, you plough that money right back in and at least have some actual cash equity in your home. Find all these colors annoying?

Let me pose this colored-type question: Has your income risen by 20 percent a year? How about 10? Do I hear 5 percent? I didn’t think so.

All I can say is that the current pace of appreciation can’t last forever.

Best case: Prices will stabilize for a period of five or so years, then will rise again, provided the economy can support it.

Worst case: The aforementioned catastrophic event throws the economy for a loop and prices plummet, making it impossible for people to recoup in a sale. Of course, if you didn’t put anything down, it’s like you had a very expensive rental for a few years, and “walking away,” isn’t quite so painful as if you put 20 percent down in cash money when you bought. But then again, if you based your purchase on equity gained from a previous home sale …

Other worst case: Economic conditions cause the loan industry to stop offering so many “creative” products (notice how everything is a “product” these days?) and the amount of house that new buyers can afford is substantially reduced, leading to a crash in prices in which a overwhelming number of homeowners rush to sell before prices really fall, further lowering the prices due to oversupply.

Back to Van Nuys: Curiously, in our neighborhood the more expensive homes seem to be selling quickly. Stuff from $700,000 to $1 million (never thought you’d see the $1 million Van Nuys home? Well, it’s about to happen) is going a lot quicker that the “lower-priced” houses. That’s probably because the homes that have a bit more square footage and which have been extensively refurbished are going for $650,000-$850,000, while the trashed-out properties that will need $50,000 or more just to become habitable are starting at $550,000 and going up to $600,000.

The other part of this lopsided equation is buyers who are looking to flip the property and make quick money vs. those who actually need a place to live. I think the speculators are realizing that they need to get a below-market price to actually make money on the deal. The entire low end of the market seems to have a large percentage of sellers who:

a) inherited the property and for some reason think it’s worth more than market value (and don’t need to sell in a hurry)

b) bought the home with the expressed intent of flipping it and need to hit a certain price to make their profit.

Nothing scientific here, just anecdotal meanderings on my part.

Still who wouldn’t want Rainn “Dwight K. Schrute” Wilson’s house?

Breaking News on Dwight Schrute!

Rainn Wilson will be in tomorrow’s (February 28th) Daily News talking about his blog, Schrute Space. Mr. Wilson writes his own stuff! No studio flak for him. Here’s something that didn’t make it into the article: Many of the times he writes it when they’re shooting a multitude of background shots. So, he says, if you see him in the background looking particularly busy and pounding on the keyboard, he’s probably writing something to post.

The story didn’t make it to the Daily News Web site, but you can see the full story here. Ok. You’ve been warned. Yet again, I’ve given you something to make that click from your
Google search for Dwight Schrute worthwhile.

And there’s also this: Dwight K. Schrute is an heir to Barney Fife. And here, Rainn Wilson says, “I think Dwight is America.” And, Rainn Wilson gets a film role. And Rainn Wilson speaks to Newsweek.

And this tidbit: I figured out which house for sale was his, and they even had an open house this weekend, but even with Steven nearly jumping up and down wanting to go, it just seemed to much like a sicko stalker move to tromp through his house.

Remembering Busch Gardens

(Image from Kenneth A. Larson via Places Earth)

I do remember Busch Gardens in Van Nuys. A bit of tropical/jungle paradise in the middle of a brewery. Now all that’s left is the brewery (and the overpowering smell of hops malt), but it used to have exotic birds, tours, a tram (the tracks are still there) and, of course free beer. Did I taste the free beer as an 8-year-old. It was the ’70s, so I’ll leave the answer to you.

(Discovered via L.A. Observed), this guy has virtually re-created Busch Gardens and other amusement parks — past, present and future — in an Atari game program called Roller Coaster Tycoon 3 .

There’s a disclaimer on his site: You may not host the files at your site. They are only available here. So click to see what Busch Gardens would look like in a video game.

Here’s a quote from the text:

Most of Busch Gardens Van Nuys was scenery and drinking lots of low cost, high quality Beer!

Not so sure about “high quality,” but we’ll let that pass.

Note: Hops/malt controversy addressed in the comments here and on The Valley Observed, Kevin Roderick’s revamped companion to L.A. Observed. Suffice it to say, it kinda smells like urine.

The 2007 Camry Hybrid, America’s Automobile

Like it or not, the Toyota is America’s Automobile (yes, Automobile with a capital “A”), especially if you’re not, shall we say, under 65. Why just today, while passing through one of the “watch out lest you get T-boned by a Camry” stretches of my morning commute, I turned onto Van Nuys Boulevard and got into the middle of three lanes behind a new Camry — it didn’t even have license plates yet. The woman drove no faster than 34 miles per hour. I know the speed limit is 35, but let’s face it, it’s morning rush hour, and 34 was her top speed. So I pull into the right late to get on the Ventura Freeway and speed ahead because I am NOT driving a Camry, nor do I drive like I’m driving a Camry.

I pass the Camry but watch in my rearview mirror. It suddenly shifts into the right late – “Hey, I’m actually going somewhere, and wouldn’t you know it, I’m already here.” Then it makes a full stop and rolls up the driveway sans accelerator, using only the power of the transmission in Drive (and stopping traffic behind it). Ah, Camrys.

That brings me to my other point, only tangentially related of course, but the title of this post nonetheless: the 2007 Camry Hybrid, which Pulitzer Prize-winning Dan Neil of the Los Angeles Times assesses here. This link probably won’t be here forever, so click TODAY but enjoy the following excerpt, which will be here for the foreseeable future:

By certain lights, the 2007 Camry Hybrid is not particularly revolutionary. Here we have a nicely equipped, 3,637-pound, five-passenger sedan with 192 horsepower, costing about $30,000 (final pricing has yet to be confirmed). Styling reminds me of the old Merle Travis song: So round, so firm, so fully packed. The ride and handling are straight-up Pink Floyd: comfortably numb.But, ladies and gentlemen, what we have here is the Buick from another planet. Beneath the almost laughably stately sheetmetal is a still-slightly radical, state-of-the-art gas-electric powertrain allowing the sedan to post estimated EPA fuel economy numbers of 43 miles per gallon city, 37 mpg highway, and 40 mpg combined driving.

There’s nothing rakish or aggressive about the car’s new styling, no trick graphics or plunging hood lines. What the Camry is on the inside — safe, reliable, sturdy, bourgeois — it is on the outside. This car is the radon of midsize exurban transportation: odorless, colorless, invisible.How does it drive? Quintessentially Camry-like. Unlike the spanking-quick Honda Accord Hybrid, which uses the hybrid power to boost the performance of its V6 powerplant, the Camry moves at a deliberate and unhurried pace — which is to say, it’s kind of slow. Although it has enough asphalt savvy for ordinary driving, it’s rather yacht-like in its cornering and steering responses.

(Check out the Camry Hybrid’s computerized console, above right. Does it come with Photoshop and Word? How about Frogger?)

You can’t make the Camry fast, because … well, just because. And on a serious note, the trade-off of better mileage for non-sportscar-like performance is what a hybrid should be, in my opinion. And making America’s Automobile, its best-selling car, in a hybrid version is probably the smartest thing any car company has done in recent memory.

Now if they could only hybridize my Ford Focus (not exciting, but not a Camry either), which can haul ass if called upon, but which also gets less-than-stellar gas mileage.

Previous Camry musing:

Orange Line vs. Camry
The ultimate car

And from Ilene:
Duck and cover, it’s a Camry!

"The Office" on Valentine’s Day

Dwight Schrute with his bobble-head.

The Valentine’s Day episode of “The Office,” summarized here by Northern Attack, was a television masterpiece. It deftly yet subtly explored many stages of romance, from Ryan the intern and Kelly’s “hookup” the night before (they kissed, she thought she now had “a boyfriend,” he tried to pull his own hair out), Pam’s endless engagement to Roy, who in lieu of a gift, offered “the best sex of your life”; Angela’s gift of a Dwight bobble-head to her secret sweetheart, and his gift in return of a mystery key (to the cellar at the beet farm, maybe? There was also Phyllis’ endless parade of gifts from her refrigeration-obsessed husband, Meredith’s passing out drunk, Oscar’s gift from a mystery admirer who only we know (yet with whom Dwight Schrute has been comfy on the couch), and of course that kiss between Jan and Michael after he first dropped her ass into the frying pan and subsequently saved it.

Note that I didn’t mention Jim and Pam? Because NOTHING happened between them. And that’s the story there. I’m not in “The Office” for what Northern Attack readers call the JPI or Jim-Pam Index — there’s so much more to the show, and a coupling of these two threatens to be a shark-jumping moment, for that matter. There are already 133 comments on the episode at Northern Attack, and I just don’t have the will to go on.

Here’s the Dwight K. Schrute quote of the night, and I quote Dwight Schrute because quoting Dwight Schrute, heck, even mentioning the name Dwight Schrute is like catnip to Internet searchers who should be enjoying the witty repartee herein. Anyway, back to the quote:

Dwight : Women are like wolves. If you want a wolf, you have to trap it. You have to snare it. And then you have to tame it. Keep it happy. Care for it. Feed it. Lovingly, the way an animal deserves to be loved. And my animal deserves a lot of loving.

Food as heroin REVISITED

REVISED: Per Ilene‘s queries, the FlavorBlasted Color Changing Goldfish turn either red or blue in your mouth, and they do so almost instantaneously. And here’s the relevant Nutrition Facts: In 51 crackers (yes people, a serving is 51 crackers — check it!), 14o calories, 6g fat, 1.5g saturated fat (1.5g polyunsatured, 3g monounsaturated), 5 mg cholesterol (cholesterol???), 250 mg sodium, 17g carbohydrates), less than 1g fiber, less than 1g sugars (how do they do that??), 3g protein. 4% calcium, 4% iron.

These were floating around the office — the best Goldfish crackers ever. Why? Because they’re “flavor blasted,” and they also supposedly change color in your mouth!

Seriously, though, if you didn’t think that original Goldfish crackers could be improved upon, think again, cause these things are freakin’ great. Here’s Pepperidge Farm’s description:

Flavor Blasted® Goldfish® CrackersBlast off to a new galaxy of flavorful fun! Just one bite will send your taste buds into orbit. When you’re ready to try something extreme — try satisfying your hunger with Xtra Cheddar, Xplosive Pizza, Nothin’ But Nacho or Burstin BBQ Cheddar Flavor Blasted® Goldfish® Crackers. They blow other snacks away.

Indeed, they do blow other snacks away. Ilene would want to know the nutritional information, but it’s not on the Web site, and I’m getting too logy with carb overload to get out of the chair. Hey, at least they’ve eliminated trans-fatty acids.

I remember Goldfish crackers from when I was a wee-little, finicky kid who didn’t eat much besides Cheerios, dry.

Seriously again, I should never, ever be around these.

Everything you ever wanted to know about Muppets and Sesame Street but were afraid to ask

Thanks to our Big Bird-loving daughter, we’ve seen enough “Sesame” for a few lifetimes, and she’s only 2.

For those who want “Sesame Street,” and especially the Muppets, in exhaustive detail, here’s a Wiki on everybody’s favorite puppets. It’s not that old, and is still growing, but there are currently 5,615 articles there.

Drill down to “Sesame Street” right here. For a sample, click on Big Bird Through the Years.

As for Cookie Monster, who seems to enjoy chewing things but never swallowing them (such is the life of an overgrown sock puppet), HE USED TO HAVE TEETH. Yikes.

Christopher Woitach

Update: Christopher e-mailed me to clarify the speaker cabinet used on the audio podcast I talk about below.

I found out about Christopher Woitach when looking up John Stowell. They did a duo album, and I am really knocked out by Christopher’s playing. There are some full tracks here on his Web site, but I came across this great Portland, Ore.-based jazz podcasting site. They have an unwieldy video podcast of John Stowell — the thing’s something like 150 MB.

But well in the realm of downloadable ability is this audio podcast of a Christopher Woitach live date. He sounds so good and is very creative in his lines.

(Normal people, stop reading here.)

For the geeks, he’s playing a new D’Angelico NYL-2, which I think has a solid pressed spruce top. He could be playing the model with a carved top — who knows? — but the thing sounds like an L5, and he has been known to useused a Clarus amp and Raezer’s Edge Stealth 10 cabinet a cabinet made by Daedalus (in Ferndale, Wash.) that has two 8-inch and two 5-inch speakers. I think it’s this one. His sound is very natural and almost a bit acoustic. And he can really play, which always helps.

More update: Christopher also reports that he is now recording a new CD, to be titled “Dead Men (Are Heavier Than Broken Hearts),” which he calls “a Raymond Chandler tribute, of sorts.” I’ll be looking forward to it because I think that mood and theme can really add to the enjoyability of a recording.

Northern Attack, another "Office" Web site

I came across yet another “The Office” fan Web site, Northern Attack.

Particulary notable is Northern Attack’s exhaustive synopsis of the “Boys and Girls” episode, complete with dialogue and analysis throughout.

The many people commenting on this site even have something called the JPI, which I think stands for Jim-Pam Index. But they’re all talking about whether the JPI is up or down. I guess it’s like the NASDAQ or something in “Office” terms.

Here’s a quote:

About the JPI…
I know we all want to be as optimistic as possible (me included), and I know events in this episode are setting up events later that will most certainly send the JPI skyrocketing, but just considering the situation at the exact end of the episode (and I’m pretty sure that’s what must be done, instead of including parts of hypothetical future episodes), it’s gonna be a negative.
But hey, I might be wrong. Just my thoughts.

and this:

The thing I love best about this show is that it’s so great to watch the first time around, and even so every episode is always better the second time through.
My take on Pam’s final look at Jim is that having just transferred a call, she’s acknowledging to herself what Jim said about always being a receptionist – and that transferring calls is much of what that life would be like. The look shows that what he said is already hitting home.

And yes, they have lots of screen shots (see above).