Finally, someone is putting it all together.
It started right after we bought our house. We built and bought our house in the summer of 1999, after house-shopping for four years. Even though we already had our house we were still in the habit of visiting model homes for decorating ideas and layout-noseyness. And that’s when I started noticing something. When we first were shopping for houses, the majority of new developments were in the $150-200K price range. Six years later–the winter of 1999-2000–the developments were all starting in the $225s. For not that much more house. Maybe a few cosmetic extras–the big greatroom with lots of windows was a popular option. The house prices crept up and the add-ons got more redonkulous. People who worked at jobs similar to mine and my husband’s were buying houses that cost double what we paid for ours. Having spent years in the process of getting our own mortgage and then working in banking I knew the only way these houses were getting purchased was with massive credit gymnastics.
I remember clearly a conversation at my job in the lunchroom where I speculated that people were going to very soon be upside down in their houses. I remember it because one of my coworkers (who had just purchased one of those super-high-priced Brentwood homes for about 5 times his annual salary) got furious that I would even say such a thing. It was an ugly shouting beat-down I received that stuck in my mind for years. His argument was that the house values were constantly going up so it was never going to happen. Five years later his family is stuck in that house while he commutes to a job on the East Coast. They’re upside down in it and can’t afford to sell it. There’s small satisfaction in being proved right when you know a family of five is having major stress the likes of which ruins marriages and causes heart attacks.
I’m a sidelines person. I watch the economy the way some other overweight people read Vogue and follow fashions on Sex and the City. There’s little likelihood I’ll ever have the qualifications to be a major player in that arena but I still have fantasy stock pools and follow economy stories with great interest.
This recession has been different from others because for the longest time it was clearly concentrated in NY, FL, and CA. From there it started to bleed across the United States like a sort of virus, with some areas getting worse than others. Nashville (knock wood) has been fortunate. We’re the confluence of several major and diverse industries–healthcare, publishing, music, higher education, technology, automotive, tourism–so that we’ve been able to keep our economy relatively propped up compared to other parts of the country. Visiting my family in Indiana over Christmas was literally taking a trip to a foreign country. With two of their major three industries (automotive and financial) among the hardest hit, Northern Indiana is a land of empty restaurants, no lines at the checkouts and billboards advertising cheap fastfood meals.
I’ve been trying to follow the spread of this economy across the country and have been putting together my own adhoc spreadsheets based on relative bits of data. Now the AP is actually publishing an interactive map that will show all the data gathered in one place. It’s great to have the information and it’ll be even better to watch as counties pull out of the difficulty during the recovery that is slowly but surely creeping through to heal the wounds.