Have you heard about the real estate market? It’s hotter than Kate Upton right now (who recently exacerbated the global warming phenomenon with her SI cover shoot in Antarctica). And folks are all hot and bothered to get in on the action once again.
How soon we forget.
I mean didn’t we just get through the worst real estate bear market anyone can remember? Didn’t millions lose their homes to foreclosure as prices were crushed bringing the global economy to the brink of collapse. Don’t we still have a sizeable inventory of bank-owned properties working their way through the system?
Human beings have an incredible ability to forget, especially difficult and trying circumstances. If we didn’t have this ability how would we accomplish anything? If failure were to stick in our minds forever we would be so paralyzed with self-doubt that we would never venture to risk anything again.
My guess is that it would normally take folks at least a generation to get over the pain that the real estate bust caused. However, there’s been a major effort to speed up this process – nothing less than a herculean effort on the part of Ben Bernanke & Co. to heal the emotional wounds caused by the bust and to shove people back into the fray.
In fact, the Fed has engineered what a few years ago most people would have thought impossible: a resurrection of a market most left for dead.
Maybe I’m just a worrywart. Then again I get paid to worry on others’ behalf. But there are a few things about this renewed real estate fervor that bother me. And I think I can best express them via metaphor:
First, Ben Bernanke may have created a metaphoric Frankenstein’s monster. In fact, let’s just call these new bull markets Bernanke’s monsters because when they crashed the Fed made every effort to bring them back from the dead. The foundations for the bull market in stocks, bonds and real estate are all based in Fed activities. In the past I’ve called it a “confidence game.” So maybe we should go reread Mary Shelley’s classic to understand the next chapter in this saga.
Second, since the internet bust/9-11 the fed has tried to accelerate the natural process the asset markets need to go through to work out the excesses created by bubble psychology. But what happens when you try to rush home so you weave in and out of traffic and drive at an unsafe speed? Or you try to speed up dinner by cooking everything on high (my wife knows this one well)? What happens when you try to manipulate any natural process without giving it the time it requires? Normally, it’s not pretty.
Finally, it certainly feels to me that folks are starting to get that Christmas morning attitude towards real estate once again. They just can’t wait another second for Santa to arrive with a huge bag full of goodies just for them. But it’s even worse than that. It’s the fear of missing. That’s the fear that marks the top of every bubble that has ever been and will ever come to be. It’s the, “if we don’t buy right now we may never be able to buy again,” mindset and to me it only occurs during bubbles.
Which makes me worry that this is nothing more than an “echo bubble” and will be followed inevitably by another mini-bust.
Still, we are very, very early in this real estate recovery. It could go on for years. So maybe it’s not time to sell but it definitely feels like it’s time to back off of the buy button.