Happy New Year and thank whatever gods or idols anyone and everyone worships that this damned year’s almost over. I can say on a personal note that this has been just about my worst financial year ever—with the exception of a stint in 2001 when I was unemployed and living from couch to couch and on the good graces of some friends and family.
I’m sure many among the swollen ranks of the nation’s unemployed feel the same way as I do about this year, and I’m doubly sure that Realtors and those associated with California’s real estate industry hold similar feelings about wretched 2009.
Here’s all that I have left to say to the Year 2009: Goodbye!
To be fair, a great deal of 2008 wasn’t too swell, but I can’t recall a year where so much negative economic news was constantly compounded by more bad crap coming down the pipeline than this year. And if we did hit the bottom of the real estate and financial markets in 2009, which many experts suspect will be the case when all is said and done, we can look back and say with authority that it was truly the worst of times. It was the year our generation’s Great Depression was at its worst, and the year in which the most people had the least hope of improving their lots in life than I can recall ever being the case.
All we can really be grateful for is that it wasn’t nearly as bad as the real Great Depression, and that’s about the best thing that can be said about 2009. So I do have one more thing to say to this year. Screw you!! There, I’ve used up twice the number of exclamation points anyone should ever be allowed. But it was for a good cause. Enough said on the subject.
To take a more optimistic tack, I’m offering my First Annual List of Top 5 Predictions for the real estate market in 2010. Except for the first few prognostications, the rest are upward looking. As always, I’m encouraging readers to offer feedback and some predictions of their own. Comment below or e-mail me at [email protected]
1. The condominium market will continue to struggle, especially in areas like Downtown Long Beach where prices of one- and two-bedroom units at some of the newer developments soared past sanity at ludicrous speed—$500,000, $600,000 and $700,000 for small spaces overlooking a garage. Clever marketers talked about the urban lifestyle of the “24-7 downtown,” where one could work, eat and play all in the same place. And some people (many of them speculators it now seems) bought into it. But the condo market has turned out to be the poster child for the greed that gripped the real estate market, and those promises turned out to be mere marketing backed up by lots of unfulfilled promises.
Downtown Long Beach’s ghost town in the making, Pine Avenue, is far worse off than it was when I started covering the area for the Long Beach Press-Telegram beginning in 2002, when the bitter taste of the freshly demolished Long Beach Mall still coated people’s tongues when they talked about downtown’s “renaissance.” And I was told nearly eight years ago by many folks connected to the area, including several city officials, that signage directing people to parking, along with some clever marketing, would bring folks to the “build it and they will come” downtown and that Pine would thrive. But the few of those who came to live in all these new high-rise “artsy” condos seemed to hurt the area more with their incessant complaining about the noise from bars and entertainment venues in their newfound urban environment than helping improve the area economy with the disposable incomes they were supposed to bring.
I can say some of the same things about Downtown Los Angeles, where I spent much of last year working and covering as a real estate magazine editor. Condo prices are way too high, particularly considering the ridiculously high HOA fees one must pay for the privilege of wading through some of the most extreme poverty in Southern California to get home. And don’t even get me started on talking about parking in either of those two downtowns. Until prices come down and people market those areas for what they are—affordable alternatives for people who like the gritty, and exciting lifestyle of downtown living—the downtown condo market will continue to flounder. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen for quite some time, and if you don’t agree with that assessment just ask some of the business owners down on Pine who’ve been waiting 10, 15, 20 years for the area to become their promised land.
2. Speculators will blindly rush back into not only Southern California’s battered residential and real estate markets, but into many other areas of the economy. For every dollar there’s an idiot waiting to spend it. Isn’t that a saying? I’m sure someone put it more eloquently somewhere, but it’s a given that there’s a sucker born every minute, and it won’t surprise me when people start talking about the next big rush in real estate or the next big thing sometime in 2010 without the slightest regard for the disaster that just unfolded.
There were a few, a small handful of people, who mentioned the freshly burst Internet bubble during the housing run-up, but they were dismissed as naysayers. As the noise grew louder from the rush on property, their warnings were drown out and we were left on a fast-moving train with no breaks to slow us or no common sense to engineer us back onto the right track. What is the next big thing then? Whatever it is you can bet I’ll avoid it like the plague unless I’m employed by that time. If that’s case put me down for a couple of hundred.
3. Speaking of the next big thing, I think it’s going to occur in the retail sector. So many retailers bit the big one during this two-year-and-counting economic malaise that it can now be argued there’s a shortage of good retailers and good retail ideas. Before you write in and call me an idiot, please note the words “good” in that last sentence. I haven’t seen much new and innovative from the industry since the push to build and market open-air malls and the creation of amazon.com around the turn of the millennium.
Will that next big thing in retail rise from the Internet or in the form of some new brick-n-mortar concept? May be a combination of the two. Whatever the case, trust me, someone out there with a great idea and some guts has a hot concept ready to be rolled out, and I think they’ll do it in 2010.
4. The job market will improve dramatically, the Bulls will come out and stay out on Wall Street for most of the year and all the butt-kissing, shiftless middle-mangers everywhere will be replaced by someone who is actually worthwhile. I put this prediction in my wishful thinking category, but I do think there’s a chance two out of three of those things will happen. Any two will do.
5. 2010 will be a year to remember on many fronts, but it will be best remembered as a year this nation digs itself out of this fine mess, and people will pick themselves up and start making headway toward their goals in life—whatever those goals may be.