Trying to track the
ups and downs of the housing market is like handicapping the various races for
president. Whose up, whose down, and why—place your bets, chumps. It’s all a
jumble of meddling politicians, social correctiveness (the new politically
correct), flat interest rates, job migration, oil prices, NIMBYism,
millennials, boomers, college debt, and Fannie-Mae and Freddie-Mac (who do
control the loan market – look HERE).
The following articles are some of
the more interesting articles of the last few weeks that deal with this whole
“roof over my head” issue. Remember that the days of “market rate” housing are gone;
in some areas more than a third of a home’s cost (and more) can be attributed
directly and indirectly to local entitlement and underlying land costs. To believe that the housing market responds to the supply and demand theories of the last century are well, so last century.
renting? Good discussion HERE on the renters that are populating the new
The Wall Street
Journal noted that one of the biggest problems in the housing construction is labor – seems that when those Mexicans went home they took their
abilities with them – they have not come back (HERE for a different look).
Also HERE, for a take on the impact of this shortage of construction workers.
Housing Starts UP and DOWN – Whatever
It seems that every
week we get hit with the latest in housing stats from somewhere – and even during
the same week they have different conclusions. Take your pick:
If you have to
provide one subsidized unit (affordable) for every ten approved units, isn’t it
fair to believe that every one of those free-market units is now more
expensive? I assure you the builder is not going to eat the difference no
matter how big his heart. Affordable housing hurts everyone, but it wrong to
believe that – GO HERE on Portland, Maine’s latest move (Portland, Oregon did
something like this years ago).
And in San
Francisco they are still leading from the rear, HERE:
And it’s not YOUR fault:
When it comes to
buying the consumer has no clue, they can’t make correct and appropriate
decisions, obviously we need the government to step in, or so says Noble Prize
winning economist, Robert Shiller HERE .
But then again
there are few other economists that would argue his point – i.e. Ludwig von Mises for one.
And it’s not your
fault either – Part 2,
Apartment builders should have thought about the THIS
And now we have to
think about the new paradigm: On-Line Shopping. Where do apartments store and
then deliver packages to their tenants? Should new homes have more secure
exterior package drop-offs - HERE?
As I said last
week, my wife and I have often discussed over the years of traveling the roads
of the western United States. Lord knows, I’ve done the LA-San Diego to San
Francisco trip maybe thirty times, even the SF to Phoenix interstate dance a
few times. Twenty-five years ago we went north to Portland and Bend, Oregon.
But the real west, the old west of cowboy lore and Injuns and pioneers and
mountains has eluded us – and what about the new West – they were all there to
be seen. And we, for forty-five years, had been very remiss.
Utah and Arizona
Last week’s post
followed the Randalls from the Bay Area north to Sun Valley, then Montana,
Yellowstone to Jackson Hole, with our midway stop being Park City. After Park
City we wound through Salt Lake City. Now, for a Californian (and like most
Californians it seems) no one gives Salt Lake much of a lick, but as we drove
south on I-15 (one of our few interstate legs) I was stunned by the growth
around Salt Lake and Provo. It all reminded me of the Bay Area as it wraps
around the southern end of San Francisco Bay.
The last time I
drove through Salt Lake City was in 1969; sure I’d dropped in at the airport a
time or two while in transit, but never directly through the town or the
region. Today it is not a town but a huge and thriving metropolis. Since the
1950s the population of the region has grown 308% from 500,000 to now over two
million. Its growth fills the valley from north of Salt Lake City south to
beyond Provo. A couple of reasons why: good jobs (highest rate of growth in
U.S.), average home price of $204,756, condos in the $160,000 range, and two
bedroom apartments rent for $1200. It’s a two and three story urban complex,
and with little imagination it reminded me of San Jose. It is, like portions of
Idaho (Twin Falls, Idaho Falls), something to watch – homes are affordable, good
air, spectacular scenery, and stable economies can lead to great things.
We headed south
down US 191, through Price, Utah and to Moab. Spectacular red stone bluffs,
deep canyons, and high open desert led to some of the most bizarre rock
formation around Moab – a decidedly touristy spot that straddles 191 south of
I-70. Well worth the trip. It’s here, in this geologically wonderful region,
where many of the National Parks are located: Arches National Park, Canyonlands
National Park, Upper Cathedral Valley, Capitol Reef National Park, Glen Canyon
National Recreation Area and dozens of study areas, and national forests. We stopped
in a small town on a high plateau, Blanding, for the night. The country
surprised me; this was ranch and cattle country, great fields of alfalfa and grazing
land—no desert here. Actually quite beautiful.
My goal for the
trip was Monument Valley and its incredible red sandstone buttes. This is not a
National Park but lies totally within the Navajo Nation reservation. These
buttes and adjacent formations reach over a 1,000 feet above the valley floor
and were one of film director John Ford’s favorite movie sets (Stagecoach, My
Darling Clementine, She wore a Yellow Ribbon, to name a few).
From there we
headed to Page, Arizona. A relatively new city built to support the
construction of the Glen Canyon Dam (1957). This is the gateway to the Glen
Canyon National Recreation Area and Lake Powell. Strange but interesting town
of 7,000 that sits on a mesa above the surrounding Arizona desert at 4,300 feet
above sea level. A few films were made in the area, most notably the disastrous
Edgar Rice Burroughs Mars movie, John
Carter. We spent one night, found a good Italian restaurant, relatively
cheap gas, a Denny’s breakfast (sorry, no Barsoom Martians), and then on to the
North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
A left-turn at
Jacobs Lake and then a 45 mile drive down a 2 lane cul de sac (longest I’ve
driven) takes you to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. This drive,
surprisingly quiet and picturesque, passed an area that, like Yellowstone in 1988,
experienced a forest fire in 2006 that has changed thousands of acres of fir
and pine forests. Significant regrowth is occurring.
Not much can be
said about the Grand Canyon. Its your usual mile deep hole in the ground, ten
to twenty miles wide, and layers of rock that can take you back a billion
years. As I said—not unusual—but spectacularly fantastic nonetheless. At North
Rim your view of the canyon is a thousand feet higher than the south side.
There are fewer crowds and there is a sense of intimacy with this wonder, where
on the south there are far more crowds. This is a must on anyone’s visit to the
Arizona, Nevada, and California
One of the stranger
places we ran into was on a stretch of I-15 (the interstate between Salt Lake
and Las Vegas). What the devil is St. George, Utah? Wikipedia says there are
more than 150,000 people in the metropolitan region, mostly white, mostly
Mormon. It sits in the middle of nowhere (with spectacular scenery though). Why
it is one of the fastest growing urban areas in the United States makes you
scratch your head. It is hot and very dry. Its leading industry is tourism (or
the flow through of tourists), why else live here, not sure. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was
filmed near here. The chunk of I-15 heading south into Arizona and Nevada is
one of the most incredible pieces of highway engineering I’ve ever seen (and
It was about this
time we made a change in plans; after Las Vegas (another mile deep canyon in
the middle of the desert), for a day of R&R we were then on to Mammoth and
Yosemite in California. We changed our minds and after two weeks of mountains
and desert we wanted to see water—so after stopping for a day in Vegas we
headed almost due west to Carmel and Monterey, California. Just one note about
Las Vegas, it is as much a state of mind as a place. To be honest, after what
we had seen the previous two weeks, we were bored with the place.
We’ve driven north
and south in California many times, Highway 99, I-5, and Highway 101, but never
directly east to west from Barstow to Bakersfield to Paso Robles. While the
physical geology is not as impressive as Idaho, Wyoming, and Utah, it does have
some of the greatest agricultural lands in the west. But even here you could
tell the drought was taking its toll. The land, even for September, looked
drier and stressed. We took state Highway 46; if you have a chance take this
road. It is quintessentially California: farm land, cotton, nut crops and what
I assumed was more than twenty square miles of pistachios – now that is a lot
of nuts. Then on through the mountains and down into the “other” vineyard
region of California – Paso Robles. In many ways even more dramatic than Napa
We turned north and
almost finished our trip in Monterey (it is 510 miles from Las Vegas - a very
long but interesting day). Two days later we were home in the East Bay.
Last Night of Trip - Monterey, California
I hope I haven’t
bored you too much with this travelogue, but I recommend this trip. The western
United States is a spectacular country with amazing things to see (it will test
your knowledge and creative use of superlatives – we often just settled on WOW),
to experience, and most of all appreciate. Take the time and just do it.
My wife and I have
often discussed over the years of traveling the roads of the western United
States. Lord knows, I’ve done the LA-San Diego to San Francisco trip maybe
thirty times, even the SF to Phoenix interstate dance a few times. Twenty-five
years ago we went north to Portland and Bend, Oregon. But the real west, the
old west of cowboy lore and Injuns and pioneers and mountains has eluded us –
and what about the new West – they were all there to be seen. And we, for
forty-five years, had been very remiss.
A favorite high
school author (and still to be sure) was John Steinbeck and when his book Travels with Charley was published in
1962--it became a favorite. It teased me as a teenager about America and the
places that were beyond the prairies of the Chicago and Midwest which
eventually lead to a solo cross-country jaunt in 1969 to LA and San Francisco. Two
years later my bride and I moved from Chicago to San Francisco taking the still,
under construction in places, interstate system using I-70 to Denver, south on
I-25 to Albuquerque, west on I-40 (some of the old Route 66), and eventually
stopping at the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, and finally San Francisco. That was
In 1982 another
American highway travelogue was published, and like Steinbeck, William Least
Heat-Moon in his Blue Highways, tried
to find the true American—who ever they are—by traveling the two lane highways
of America, not the high speed interstates. His book, remarkable for its insight,
clarity, and humor, again struck a cord in my traveling soul. But for the past
twenty-five years Europe and other exotic places called and we answered. The
western trip seemed to elude us, “Maybe next year.” Well this was finally the
Our goal was a
simple clockwise loop, from Walnut Creek to Walnut Creek. This was not to be a
camping trip, no sleeping under the stars. My idea of camping includes marble
countertops in the bathroom (call me a retired boy scout). At my age crawling
out of a sleeping bag is not a pretty sight. But it was also not going to
ultra-first class, economy is good if there’s legroom.
with his traveling companion, Charley the poodle, towed a trailer (now in his
Salinas museum) behind a new pickup truck. Heat-Moon drove a green van with a
camp stove and portable toilet. Sorry guys – AARP approved hotels were our base
line and certainly anything above that was more than acceptable. Our horse was
a red Ford Escape with 3000 miles on it when we rolled down the driveway. Our goal
was to see as much as we could in seventeen days. The route is posted below.
Nevada and Idaho
I worked as a
consultant to a mining company back in the late 1970s designing a work camp and
support housing near a town called Challis, Idaho. I wanted to see what had
We went east
through Reno onto Wells, Nevada then north into Idaho and through Twin Falls.
The last time I’d been in Twin Falls was the late 70s. The population then was about
25,000 people and agricultural based – the shock of driving through this now
very modern upsized town of more than 46,000 was stunning (I’m sure the
population was well above that in the surrounding county). Construction and new
growth was everywhere – and as we were to find out almost everywhere - there
has been tremendous growth in the west during the last twenty-five years. After
spending a few days in Ketchum and Sun Valley (where Hemmingway lived from 1935
to 1947 and later died) we headed north into Challis and discovered almost nothing
had changed in forty years. It is still a simple main street town, spectacular
surrounding mountains, and verdant fields and cattle lands below, all flanking
the Salmon River. Its population had gained about 200 people since 1980, now
about 1,000 people call Challis home (the Village Inn where our base camp had
been set up, was exactly the same).
We headed north
into Montana then east to Virginia City, Montana. Montana is Big-Sky country. It’s as open as a when a very young Sacagawea
lead Lewis and Clark through the region in 1805, now cattle populates the great
expanses of the country and not the Shoshone and buffalo. We stayed south of
Butte and west of Bozeman on two lane highways that were in finer shape than
California’s and headed south to the old mining town of Virginia City. What we
did find were small and seemingly prosperous towns and ranches. The country
was, to use an overworked term, awesome. Then on to Yellowstone National Park.
worth the visit. I took some good photos of the usual suspects: buffalo and elk,
the Old Faithful geyser, mud boils and the forest recovering from the massive
fires of 1988. The most traffic we ran into (on the whole trip) was at the
entry gate to Yellowstone. One of the funniest incidents were the cars backed
up behind a bull buffalo ambling down the main entry road. He was in no hurry
and his slow ponderous gate proved it. The town (just outside the entry) is
like a cowboy version of Fisherman’s Wharf; I still cringe when I think of it.
The scenery and the underlying geology of Yellowstone is very exciting, but for
drama and great photo opportunities take your time as you travel fifty miles
south to the Grand Tetons and Jackson, Wyoming.
Wyoming and Utah
While Ketchum and
Sun Valley, Idaho seem a tad artificial and pretentious, Jackson (also referred
to as Jackson Hole), Wyoming exhibited a warmth and what, to us, felt more like
what the modern American west is like. Compact, free parking, good to great
restaurants, and high quality galleries, modern conveniences, and an airport
that takes in Delta and United flights. Fly fishing is a short drive away, a
call will get you guides and float trips to some of the best cutthroat trout
fishing in the world (as well as brown, rainbow, and brook trout). These are
the drainages of the Madison and the Gallatin and Firehole rivers made famous
in a hundred books and movies about trout fishing in the western United States.
We will be back, in many ways the trip was worth the discovery of Jackson Hole.
From Jackson we
headed to Park City, Utah. While Jackson retained some of the character of the
Old West, Park City has all the character of a modern resort subdivision built
outside Salt Lake City. But wait, Park City is
a modern resort subdivision built 35 miles east of Salt Lake City. The 2002
Olympics made the place and even though there were good winter activities
(fueled by Salt Lake and Provo) it was the post Olympic growth of townhome
complexes, modern hotels, and professional in-migration that has fueled it’s
substantial growth. At over 6,000 feet the air is crisp and dry. The old town
is one street (and a hefty climb from one end to the other as well) of the
usual shops, restaurants, and even a brewery. It’s no longer mining that drive
the economy it’s the tourist and second homes. I think, in time, it will be a
big retirement draw as well. Two days was more then enough. But it is the rest
of Utah that can take your breath away – for better or worse.
Every once and a while I take a few minutes and peruse the
top ten list of this and that. They are always interesting. Mostly because of
the compilers themselves (What were they thinking?) than the list itself. Best places to live, cities with
the best grade schools, and those that have the best chain restaurants are fun
to read but I can assure you that no one will move just to be on one of these
lists. But, it does give a resident of “The best college town in America,” some
self-satisfaction knowing someone out there validates their choice.
So here are few to ponder:
America’s Most and
Least Expensive College Towns(CLICK HERE)
I was not surprised that Berkeley Cal was number one. No one
can afford to live in the Bay Area. But why Stanford isn’t on the elite list
leaves one to wonder about the list's authenticity, housing in Palo Alto is totally
insane. The least expensive is Muncie, Indiana. Yes, Muncie. I’m going to
Google Earth and find it, I do remember the name from my youth.
America’s Most and
Least Expensive Affordable Areas to Raise A Family. (CLICK HERE)
This is an in depth article about living costs in American
cities. Interesting for data geeks. But I was shocked to see that New York was
listed as the most expensive, shocked I say. What this does show is that where you
live does matter. California needs to work on getting to the top of this list.
Here’s a list of the Top
25 Private Home Building Companies. (CLICK HERE)
According to this list and the article, out of the top fifteen,
seven are in Texas, four in Colorado, and only two in California—the Bay Area
to be exact. What is more interesting is the Affordability Rank—why anyone
would think of moving to California is beyond me. But for those of us here,
have pity, we feel trapped in a gilded prison of drought and Coppertone.
took a pole of its readers and came up with The 16 Best Places to Live in America – 2015. (CLICK HERE)
The list certainly grabs your attention from Chattanooga,
Tennessee to Lake Placid, New York. Note: there are no California cities listed
– just saying.
And one last fun one:
California finally tops the list, The 10 Most Polluted Cities in America. (CLICK HERE)
In California’s defense, the Fresno-Madera, Ca. region sits
in a bowl and with agriculture dominating the economy you get dust and all the
usual mix of agricultural byproducts. The rest of America must have its veggies.