Have you ever gone to an open house even though you knew you weren’t interested in buying the property? Have you ever pored over housing price data on Zillow or read through housing ads on Craigslist just for fun? You are not alone. There seems to be a growing obsession with real estate in the U.S., as home prices have soared in the past few years, only to come back to earth a bit in the past year.
But during that boom — and the current correction/bust — blogs of all stripes have sprung up to feed the need for instant real estate information, photos of noteworthy homes for sale, and the off-color stories related to city living. While some newspaper sites have had some recent success with real estate blogs, independent bloggers who have called the boom a speculative bubble — a.k.a. the bubble bloggers — have found a rabid audience for their bearish views.
“Bloggers have moved into bubble coverage because the media hasn’t done a very good job of covering the reality, and reporters are more conventional and look for the story of the hour and what the statistics are,” said Carol Lloyd, who writes the must-read Surreal Estate online column about the San Francisco Bay Area market. “And some of the statistics are produced by the NAR [National Association of Realtors], and they look like they’re just covering the industry for the industry.”
Lloyd wrote a fantastic primer on bubble bloggers, who she says “have become the sages of the day.” Matt Carter, a reporter (and blogger ) for the real estate trade site InmanNews , says the bubble bloggers’ popularity can be traced to a bad case of schadenfreude among some in the public.
“The bubble blogs feed the intense desire many people have — including those who got burned investing in real estate, and first-time home buyers who feel they’ve been priced out of the market — to see housing prices crash,” Carter told me via email. “As was the case during the dot-com bust, people who got left behind want those who were riding high during the boom years to feel their pain.”
One of the strongest aspects of these blogs is the online community of readers that sprouts up around the subject of real estate. At the Housing Bubble Blog, Jones regularly asks his readers to contribute “Craigslist finds” (listings of interest), and often gets more than 100 comments on each blog post.
Toscano (pictured here) dings mainstream real estate reporters for relying on expert quotes from analysts who are in bed with the real estate industry — meaning, the quotes are likely to give a positive spin to any negative news. “The other [problem] is that they tend to mirror conventional thought and to shy away from contrarian or non-mainstream analysis, regardless of merit,” he said. “As one example of this phenomenon: Despite the fact that we had been in an obvious speculative bubble for a long time, the media didn’t seriously address the possibility of a bubble until AFTER the housing market had slowed down substantially.”
“These sites are guilty of the same sin they accuse the real estate industry of: presenting only one side of the story,” Carter said. “They highlight the most dismal news from the most stressed markets — that foreclosures are up, inventories are rising, and prices falling — without providing any context. A lot of these blogs would have you believe that all of the runup in prices was artificial, fueled by speculation and the easy availability of credit. The fact is, housing prices remain stable or continue to appreciate in areas where jobs are plentiful and housing is scarce. There are sound fundamentals in some markets, but you would never know it from reading the bubble blogs.”
But what will happen if the market does crash and boom again, or whether it’s just a slow poofing souffle? Will people still be enamored with every economic report coming out of Northern Iowa or a suburb of Phoenix? Or does the universality of everyone having a home — whether rental or as an owner or landlord — mean this topic will be fresh for years to come? Perhaps online aggregators that sum up real estate news from all sides, from bear to bull, will be the most valued in the future. Time will tell.