March 30, 2011

Home prices up 317 percent!! (Or, why you should take stats with a grain of salt)

Here's a housing market that had a seemingly rip-roaring February: Kent County's average sale price soared 317 percent.

If I thought sellers in that Eastern Shore county were actually getting more than four times the amount that comparable homes sold for a year ago at a time when prices overall are falling, I'd be rushing out there to write a story. But here's a clue that it's apples-to-pizza -- well, besides the ginormous $96,000-to-$400,000 jump: Nine homes changed hands in the 20,000-person county last month. (A year ago? Eight.)

It's not just about the skewing that can come with averages. The median price jumped 158 percent. The thing is, people have the unhelpful habit of buying the homes they want rather than exactly the sorts of homes that sold a year ago, so price comparisons can get hairy.

Take Kent County in November, for instance: prices dropped 60 percent.

While we're having fun with statistics, there's always Somerset County, another small jurisdiction on the Eastern Shore. The number of home sales there rose 125 percent in February vs. a year earlier -- from four to nine.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Housing humor, Housing stats

December 17, 2009

Holiday black humor

The housing slump, foreclosure crisis and constricted economy are omnipresent even -- or perhaps especially -- at this time of year, so I suppose I shouldn't be surprised about the Recession Gingerbread or the Default Carol.

The former is the brainchild of an artist who put together "Abandoned Gingerbread House Building Sites" in honor of all the abandoned actual homebuilding sites in Ireland. (You can find them in the U.S., too.) As gingerbread creator Andrew Salomone put it, they're "picturesque gingerbread-house decorations that will rot and eventually be thrown out much like the unfinished housing estates themselves." Joy to the world ...

Which brings us to "The 12 Months of Default." It warps "The Twelve Days of Christmas" to tell the tale of a couple sliding into foreclosure. ("On the 12th month of default, my true love said to me ... House sold at auction ... We need to vacate ... Cash for keys offer!" etc. etc.) It has, in a manner of speaking, a happy ending. Depending on your definition of happy.

Tip of the hat to fellow reporter and Consuming Interests blogger Liz F. Kay for noticing the gingerbread, and to Wonk reader Frank Rizzo for pointing me toward the carol.

Update: Marcy Shaffer suggests you check out her company's commercial real estate parody of "O Christmas Tree" ("You used to earn on cruise control" / "Now it's your turn to lose control").

Later this morning: a more upbeat way in which housing and the holidays intersect.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:30 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Housing humor, The economy, The foreclosure mess

December 6, 2009

Real estate listings everyone can enjoy

You might think there's no point looking at online ads for homes if you don't actually want to buy a home, but Lovely Listing begs to differ. Under the heading of "Odd finds in Real Estate Listings," the website shares photographs of -- well -- odd finds in real estate listings.

For instance, this home for sale with a photo showing the vines of a philodendron growing up the wall of the living room. And, in another photo, the ceiling. And in yet another photo, out into the hallway and ... is it going into a bedroom?

"Arghhh!" writes poster Sarah K. "How can the pictures end there? What happens next? WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?"

(Commenter Xay, riffing off Little Shop of Horrors, writes: "Feed it a dentist and see what happens.")

Other finds include a house with a sea-monster theme, a pad with a nausea-inducing carpet, a place with a disgusting bathroom to end all disgusting bathrooms, and, of course, the "swordfish interrogation room."

It's LOLcats for the real estate set.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 9:38 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: For sale, Housing humor

October 14, 2009

A parade of homes the Brothers Grimm could get behind

So you've always secretly wanted to participate in a parade of homes, but your place is more House Ugly than House Beautiful. No problem. The Historic Annapolis Foundation has just the event for you.

It's the group's 2009 Gingerbread Parade of Homes, which is just what it sounds like: Make a gingerbread house, enter it and possibly win. The foundation -- partnering with Long & Foster Real Estate in Eastport -- has categories for children, families, adults employed in either the food or architectural design industries and adults who aren't pros. Deadline to register: Nov. 16.

The results will be on display at Annapolis businesses in December.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 8:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Housing humor

October 1, 2009

Lego house -- emphasis on the "house"

Your opportunity to buy a house made of Legos -- and by that, I mean an actual house-sized house -- has sadly gone by the wayside. Workers were pulling the British structure apart last month because, like a number of homes made of more conventional materials, this one was buyer-less.

According to the Telegraph, "Plans for Legoland to move it to their theme park fell through because transport costs were too high and despite a final Facebook appeal for someone to take it, no-one came forward."

Number of Lego bricks: 3.3 million.

It was built for James May’s Toy Stories, a BBC series. If the house followed the original plan, its interior sported a Lego shower and toilet.

Geekologie noted the teardown on a post tagged with these pointed categories: "You fools!" and "You should have donated it to Geekologie!"

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Housing humor, Unusual homes

August 31, 2009

Would you move to Accident? How about Boring?

Hear a name often enough, and you won't think twice about it. But that doesn't change the fact that Maryland has some oddly named places.

Accident, for instance. Or Boring. Or Bivalve.

I wonder if a strange name keeps people from moving in. I'd like to think it instead attracts residents who like a little whimsy in their lives, or at least their mailing addresses.

Accident, in Western Maryland, does not appear to be named after a disaster. Historian Mary Miller Strauss writes in Flowery Vale, a history of Accident, Maryland that it's impossible to say for sure, but she believes a story about land speculation.

When Lord Baltimore opened lands "westward of Fort Cumberland" to settlers, two friends from Prince George's County rushed out -- separately -- to survey and claim property. William Deakins Jr. had just finished surveying 682 acres when Brooke Beall showed up and said "he had selected the same tract for his survey, calling attention to his axe marks on the trees to prove his claim":

Deakins replied that it appeared that they had selected the same land "by accident". Since he and Beall were friends and land was abundant, he proposed that Beall take over the survey already made. To this Beall agreed, although his warrant called for 778 acres. John Hanson, Jr., Deputy County Surveyor, made out the survey to Beall, and they named the tract Accident.

What about Boring in Baltimore County? It was named after a postmaster, not because it's ... well, you know. (One resident writes, "Is Boring boring? Well yes it is, but in a good way.")

Bivalve on the Eastern Shore also has a post-office-related history, according to Bivalve United Methodist Church Centennial Celebration 1886-1986 by Paul Willing. It was originally called Waltersville after a local family. But there was already a Waltersville post office elsewhere in Maryland, so in 1887, the newly appointed postmaster had to think of another name for his office. I'll bet you can guess what he came up with.

But why? In honor of oysters, "mainstay of the watermen's livelihood," Willing writes. And that's how Waltersville became Bivalve.

Here are other Maryland places with names that tickled my funnybone:

Continue reading "Would you move to Accident? How about Boring?" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Housing humor

July 23, 2009

What shape is your recovery?

You've probably heard people talking about V-shaped housing-market recoveries -- sharply down, sharply up -- and U-shaped turnarounds (down, flat, up).

But letters of the alphabet as economic metaphors are so 2008. The hot new thing: kitchen implements.

David Stiff, chief economist at Fiserv, tells Time's Curious Capitalist blog that he's expecting a recovery will look like a frying pan. Here's what he means:

Once the glut of low-priced foreclosures thins out and buyers are back to choosing between homes owned by more typical sellers, he anticipates a short increase in price, followed by more-or-less flat values. The Curious Capitalist says, "Following the housing bust in the northeastern U.S. in the 1980s, home prices were fairly flat for four to five years. It takes a while for folks to regain their confidence to go out and buy a house—especially a more-expensive one."

If you're scratching your head over the comparison to a frying pan, picture a two-dimensional drawing: down, then flat, then up a bit, then -- along the handle -- flat once again. (Actually, you don't need to imagine it. You can see Stiff's doodle here.)

This prompted a tongue-in-cheek response from a reader who wondered if the frying-pan handle could "possibly have an upward tilt, or perhaps an ergonomically designed grip," and warned that if "it's a Pyrex frying pan, you could slip right off that handle into the fire."

Ouch. Don't get folks started on the subject of "green shoots," either.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Housing forecasts, Housing humor

June 16, 2009

Any other name would smell as sweet?

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart recently noted one of the odder twists of the financial bailout. Insurer AIG, bailed out to the tune of $180 billion, has ... Wait, I'll let Stewart tell it:
Stewart: "AIG is making some radical changes."

Clip of Edward Liddy, the company's CEO: "I think the AIG name is so thoroughly wounded, ... we've already begun the rebranding process to AIU."

Stewart: "$180 billion dollars and all you come up with is, 'Why don't we change a letter.' Talk about buying a vowel!"

After a bit of commentary that's too blue to quote here, Stewart said: "Also changing its name post-bailout: Citigroup, which will now become Citigrouu. While Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac become, respectively, Mindy Sue and Jeffrey Monk. Plus Bank of America will now be called the Good Time Teddy Bear Hugateria."

You've got to laugh or you'll cry, right?

For non-comedy reporting on AIG's rebranding, see this Reuters story about efforts "to distance the giant insurer's sprawling operations across 130 countries away from the AIG name" and this Bloomberg article about the company taking its logo off ID badges and company credit cards.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 12:52 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Housing humor

March 30, 2009

The Simpsons notices the housing crisis

The phrase Bart wrote over and over on the chalkboard for his detention on last night's Simpsons: "My piggy bank is not entitled to TARP funds."

(A lot of the troubled assets in banks getting Troubled Asset Relief Program money are mortgage-related, so I'm calling this housing humor.)

Simpsons fans will recall that a few weeks ago, the family's adjustable-rate mortgage adjusted and they lost their home to foreclosure. Hijinks with neighbor Ned ensued.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:40 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Housing humor

July 16, 2008

What home sellers want

Q. What are sellers asking for?

A. To sell, of course.

Q. Besides that, you nincompoop.

A. I'm not the nincompoop asking foolish questions.

Q. That's not an answer. You have to answer -- it's your raison d'être.

A. That's not a question. J'accuse.

Q. What did I do to deserve this?

A. Oh -- you know. And to answer your poorly worded earlier question, sellers are asking for less than they used to. 

Q. Now we're getting somewhere. How much less?

A. Well, the median house on the market in the Baltimore metro area this month is priced at $296,000, according to That's down 9 percent from a year ago, when the median asking price was about $325,000. And it's down 15 percent from July 2006, when the median asking price was almost $350,000.

Q. What's the median? And why should I care?

A. The median is the midpoint, which means half the asking prices are cheaper and half more expensive. And I have no idea why you should care, as you don't technically exist and are therefore not likely to qualify for a mortgage. ... Nowadays, at least.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 9:58 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Housing humor

June 1, 2008

The raccoon ripple effect

Remember in the boom days when they said anyone could qualify for a loan if they had a pulse?


more cat pictures


No one ever considers the raccoon-related housing market fallout.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 9:38 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Housing humor

February 22, 2008

Sign? What sign?

This isn't strictly housing-related, but it is real estate, and more importantly it made me laugh.

Lorraine Mirabella reports today that an attorney for the developer of the mixed-use McHenry Row project in Locust Point refused to confirm to the Baltimore Planning Commission that it had signed an upscale grocer even though the project artwork "depicted a large sign bearing the Harris Teeter name" on one of the structures.

"With regard to the grocer, that has not been announced yet," the developer's attorney, Stanley Fine, said to the commission, Mirabella reported.

"Well, it has now," Commission Chairman Peter Auchincloss shot back.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 8:53 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Housing humor

January 5, 2008

Subprime space-station loans

Brewster Rockit, the comic strip about an idiot space captain, got into the housing humor business this week. The strip, which you can see HERE, went like this:

Lt. Pamela Mae Snap (not an idiot): "You financed our space station with a subprime loan?"

Captain Rockit: "The loan guy made it sound like a good idea at the time."

Snap: "Did he explain the rate is adjustable?"

Rockit: "He might have, but whenever I get bored my mind wanders."

Snap: "Well, the rate adjusts after one year to--"

Rockit: "You ever wonder if waffles and pancakes are bitter enemies?"

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 8:54 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Housing humor

November 30, 2007

Guess that price

If all-things-housing is your idea of fun, then Realius has the game for you: Guess the value of various homes -- California only at this point. calls the Price Me Now game "the equivalent of fantasy baseball or football for the real estate wonk."

Realius notes in its blog that you're guessing what the selling price will be on homes that are still listed:

The object of the game is to guess what you think a home will sell for. As the game plays today, you’re not actually scored against how close your guess is to the List Price. The interface strongly suggests this, but that’s not the case. In fact, your accuracy is based on how close you are to the moving average of all of the user guesses.
Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 3:31 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Housing humor

November 28, 2007

Hey! Come back with my virtual house!

The Real Estate Metaverse Association -- Remeta -- says it's joined forces with mediation and negotiation company Open Dialogue to help residents of Second Life settle real estate complaints. (Second Life, in case you're hip to blogging without being hep to the rest of the online world, is a 3-D online society.)

Yes. You can now pay a fee to resolve a dispute about real estate that doesn't, in the physical sense of the word, exist.

From the press release:

"Mediation offers the parties an opportunity to resolve their concerns in a respectful, creative way that often keeps the relationship intact afterward," said Ronnie Howell of Open Dialogue. "In contrast, arbitration offers the parties the opportunity to present their concerns to an individual who ultimately renders a decision, much in the same way a judge might do. With both processes the parties are often able to avoid what may be a costly, messy, lengthy, unhappy experience in the judicial system, especially when judicial systems aren't quite sure how to handle virtual world issues yet."
Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 5:31 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Housing humor

November 6, 2007

The sitcoms have noticed the housing market

Last night's "How I Met Your Mother" has married couple Lily and Marshall foolishly deciding to buy an apartment despite Lily's tremendous credit card debt and the 18 percent interest rate on their (apparently) subprime loan.

Ted, their friend and the show's narrator, says it's "the third and biggest" of Marshall's three big mistakes of his life.

Marshall: "We should buy a place. Baby, real estate is always a good investment!" (Ted, narrating from the future: "It's not.")
Marshall: "And the market is really hot right now!" (Ted: "It wasn't.")
Marshall: "And because of my new job, we are in such a strong place financially!" (Ted: "They weren't.")

Any other TV shows discussing the housing market?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:52 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Housing humor

October 25, 2007

Ken and Barbie at risk of foreclosure

So says "America's Finest News Source," the Onion. The parody newspaper, ah, reports that "5-year-old Janie Wright's mean older brother, Dave, 8" is threatening to kick the "unsuitable borrowers" out of their dollhouse if they don't start paying on their subprime loan.
The nasty older sibling added that since Ken and Barbie never insured the dollhouse, they would have no recourse in the event of fire, flood, or stomping.

The Onion picked Dayton in foreclosure-wracked Ohio as the dateline.

Thanks to InmanBlog for pointing it out.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 8:27 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Housing humor

September 28, 2007

Housing wonk humor

Mark Gilbert of Bloomberg has a hilarious -- for wonks -- list of ways Chuck Norris (of "Walker, Texas Ranger" fame) interacts with the financial markets.

Chuck Norris jokes, which cast him as the most powerful and merciless being on earth, tend to go, say: "Chuck Norris has two speeds. Walk and kill."

Gilbert's housing-related additions include: "Chuck Norris doesn't target inflation. He roundhouse-kicks it until it begs for mercy."

And: "The tears of Chuck Norris would supply enough liquidity to solve the credit crisis. Too bad he never cries."

And let's not forget: "Chuck Norris subprime collateralized debt obligations still trade at 100 percent of face value."

Thanks to InmanBlog for pointing it out. There's just too few jokes involving collateralized debt obligations, I've always said.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 2:13 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Housing humor
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About Jamie Smith Hopkins
Jamie Smith Hopkins, a Baltimore Sun reporter since 1999, writes about the regional economy. Her reporting on the housing market has won national and local awards. Hopkins is a Columbia native and has lived in Maryland all her life, save for 10 months spent covering schools in Ames, Iowa.
She trained to become a wonk by spending large chunks of time as a geek and an insufferable know-it-all.
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