News from a N.A.R. #1: Upbeat Mood

Now that this year's National Association of Realtors convention has packed up and left Las Vegas, real estate industry watchers are engaged in their annual back-at-the-office post-N.A.R. conversations of the "s0-what-did-you-think?" variety.
My first observation is that the mood at N.A.R.'s event was not nearly as downbeat as might have been expected given the state of many housing markets around the country.
That enthusiasm may reflect a disconnect between the trade group's perennially rosy outlooks and reality or the fact that Realtors as a group tend to project a professional bias toward optimism.
The happy-talk also could reflect the makeup of N.A.R. convention-goers in that Realtors who are truly feeling the pain of weak housing markets have neither the time or money to spend a week at a convention in Las Vegas while those who are able to attend are more likely to be part of N.A.R.'s massive leadership structure or well-established regulars who rely on N.A.R. events as an opportunity to combine networking with a tax-deductible vacation.

It's All About Real Estate

Two recent news stories lend new support to my earlier argument that real estate IS the U.S. economy:
Gallery Corp., a Southern California-based chain of 52 mattress stores, has filed for bankruptcy protection with assets of $15 million and debts of $20 million on its books, and Williams-Sonoma, a San Francisco-based nationwide chain of gourmet-cookware stores, has posted a 7% drop in its quarterly net income on a year-to-year comparison basis. Both companies cited weakness in the housing markets as one factor in their results.
It's possible that housing was really just a handy excuse for management missteps at these companies. Yet either way, the news reinforces the perception that what happens in real estate doesn't stay in real estate, but instead spills over into the broader economy. The argument that real estate is an island still doesn't hold water.

Food Poisoning at Flamingo Hotel

Earth is not an entirely safe place to live. But among the many dire and worrisome threats that our planet faces is one that merits much more concern than is usual granted: That is, the toxicity of our modern food supply.
The thought is occasioned by a cup of artichoke soup that I purchased last Friday from a vendor at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas. This soup was so toxic that I became severely ill. Unable to return home on my own, I was heroically rescued by my father, who boarded an airplane Saturday morning and then drove my car back to Los Angeles Saturday afternoon while I suffered in the back seat from extreme dehydration and a 101 F fever.
The lesson here is that hungry travelers should be extremely cautious in any place such as a hotel or airport that serves massive quantities of inexpensive food to a highly captive and transitory population as these conditions create no incentive to ensure repeat customers.
During this week of Thanksgiving in the U.S., I'll be grateful for any opportunity to purchase, prepare and partake of food that is not toxic, but rather wholesome, nutritious and safe.

Realtors Gear Up for National Convention

Realtors may be the ultimate optimists. But can their indefatigable goodwill hold true in a housing market characterized by bad vibes and diminished opportunities? The answer may be found at the National Association of Realtors' annual convention to be held this week in Las Vegas. The venue seems particular apt this year since the gambling mecca suggests a metaphor for today's housing markets: Legions of homeowners try to undo their losing bets on adjustable-rate mortgages while swarms of Realtors pound the pavement in search of evermore elusive buyers and sellers.

Ya Gotta Luv This Real Estate Ad

Somewhere in Los Angeles or beyond is a real estate broker who recently listed a four-bedroom, four-bathroom home along the Venice canals (that's Venice, Calif., not Venice, Italy) for sale at $3.125 million, or $3,125,000 in round numbers.
The owners of this property may indeed tremble in horror when they read the classified ad for their home that appeared in last Sunday's Los Angeles Times. And I quote: "...Full amenities. Green house. Maids rm. roof deck w/spa. Gabled ceilings. Clerestories. Shudders. wood & limestone floors. Master w/closet/study & steam shower."
Full marks for "Clerestories," but "Shudders"?

Robert Crais Gets Real Estate

It's no news to real estate reporters that every story is a real estate story. Yet real estate is rarely the subject of crime novels. That's why I was surprised to discover a real estate angle in a recent novel by Robert Crais, who is undisputably one of the best crime writers at work today. In Crais' new bestseller "The Watchman," which is about the betrayals of abusive fathers, an FBI agent investigating a cartel that funnels drug money to terrorists tells our hero Joe Pike: "Everything happening in the world today is about real estate." Well said. And by the way, the book is terrific.