Are You Living In A Bubble?

While futzing around on CNN, I found an interesting article that listed the most over and underpriced housing markets. Are you ready?

Most Overpriced
Most Underpriced
City/Metro Area percent
fair value
City/Metro Area percent
fair value
Chico, CA 43% 1 Salt Lake, UT -23%
Stockton, CA 34% 2 Memphis, TN -20%
Santa Barbara, CA 34% 3 Macon, GA -17%
Los Angeles, CA 32% 4 Little Rock, AR -16%
San Francisco, CA 30% 5 Syracuse, NY -16%
Modesto, CA 30% 6 Albuquerque, NM -14%
San Diego, CA 28% 7 New Orleans, LA -14%
W. Palm, FL 26% 8 Baton Rouge, LA -14%
Sacramento, CA 25% 9 Oklahoma City, OK -13%

Who would have thought Chico, of all places, would come in first!


Observations on the News, Tuesday, March 29

While my tea cools, a few observations from this morning’s perusal of the headlines:

  • Can You Afford To Live Here? Can You Afford Not To? The Sunday LA Times had an interesting article on the housing market in Los Angeles, and the sticker shock that folks find when they move here [Update: jumbach pointed out a similar article in today’s Sacramento Bee (registration required)]. This is a good article to send to people that don’t understand LA Real Estate. But it is not just Los Angeles: an elected official in Half Moon Bay (LA Times) has been priced out of living in the city that he serves. And prices won’t be going down: Experts don’t expect the bubble to pop, but simply to have a slow leak (Daily News). What will happen, they predict, is that the rate of accumulation will slowly decline. That latter article had some interesting statistics: In 2004, only 26% of the buyers were first-timers, and that is expected to keep sinking. A typical first-time buyer had the following profile: (a) between the ages of 30 to 40 years old with the median age of 32; (b) nearly half were married and about 33 percent single; (c) many pooled resources and co-owned properties—shared purchases increased 13.2% last year. For first time buyers, the annual salary was $75,000 and the median price of the house $401,500.

    It is also true that many of the affordability calculators don’t fit the SoCal market (Daily News). After all, with prices so high and affordability so low, why haven’t sales cratered? In 1989, part of the last great bull housing market, homeownership in California was 53.6%. It moved up slightly the next year and continued that trend as the market tanked and prices fell. But, when prices began moving up in the late 1990s, so did ownership rates. Last year, when prices hit record levels that were eclipsed last month, ownership in California averaged 57.1%, 10.3 percentage points under the national average. True, only two states, Hawaii and New York, had lower ownership rates. The article posits this is because how people buy houses differ out in California, which more creative financing, help from parents, and shared purchases.

  • You Are What You Eat. According to the AP (reported in the Daily News), whole grains are good for you. This is not just dark bread :-), but real whole grains. I wonder what the Atkins folks make of this, but I’ll note that even the Atkins folks have modified their diets (Reuters) to not look at net carbs, but the glycemic index. On the other hand, people on strict raw food vegetarian diets are thin but healthy (Reuters). Don’t want to be thin and healthy. Then visit Burger King (Daily News), where the new Enormous Omelet Sandwich carries 730 calories and 47 grams of fat and comes with two eggs, sausage, three strips of bacon and two slices of melted American cheese on a bun.
  • Get Sleep. Get Nookie. According to a report issued by the National Sleep Foundation (Daily News), millions of Americans have such bad sleeping habits that they’re too tired to have sex, too cranky to work, and they doze off at the wheel or experience other problems. Roughly one-fourth of respondents who have partners report that their sexual relationship has been hurt because they have been too sleepy. They had sex less often or lost interest in having sex because they were too tired. More than half of those surveyed experienced insomnia and nearly one in five said they feel tired almost every day. Personally, I get about 5 hours of sleep, but I think I’m part of the small group of adults — less than 10 percent — who can get by with six hours of sleep or less a night.
  • Pentagon Taking Over Air Force Programs. According to the AP, the Air Force, has been forced to surrender oversight authority for 21 weapons programs worth a combined $200 billion. This is primarily due to a lack of Air Force officials to provide oversight: there is no Senate-confirmed Air Force secretary, undersecretary or chief of acquisition, especially with the departure last week of Peter Teets, who was the Air Force undersecretary as well as acting secretary. The 21 programs include a $59.2 billion Boeing contract for C-17A Globemaster II advanced cargo aircraft, and a $31.7 billion Boeing and Lockheed Martin contract for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (this is the one of most interest to me). Decisions on moving these and other programs beyond certain designated milestones will be made by Wynne rather than by an Air Force acquisition official.
  • Verizborg and S-Borg-C. The Wall Street Journal, via Reuters, via Yahoo is reporting that MCI Inc. on Tuesday accepted a sweetened takeover offer of $7.6 billion from Verizon Communications Inc. This is supposedly a better position for both Verizon and MCI, and the markets like it better than Quest buying MCI. It comes on the heels of SBC buying AT&T, and Nextel and Sprint merging. As a Verizon customer, going back to the Generally Terrible Equipment (GTE) and Airtouch days, it will be interesting to see what this brings.

I’ve probably gone on long enough. I do welcome comments on these observations.


The Future of Terry Schiavo

[Today is already starting out crazy… numerous phone calls even before my tea is made, let alone cool. However, I did want to get out this idea that hit in the shower this morning. Please note that no offense to Catholics who might be reading this is intended.]

This morning, while taking my shower, a thought occured to me, as they often do in the shower. Consider:

  1. Terr Schiavo and her family are Catholic.
  2. There is the possibility that she will die on Good Friday or on Easter.
  3. She has been held up as a martyr for her cause.

I’m going to go out on a limb here, and predict that after she dies, people will begin claiming miraculous recoveries as a result of praying to her. Some of the more fervent might see visions of her rising. At some future point, she might be started down the path of sainthood.

I know, an odd notion. But then again…


Observations on the News for Thurday, March 24

While I wait for my tea to cool, some commentary from my morning perusal of the news headlines:

  • From the Home Ownership Department: According to the Los Angeles Daily News, sales of real estate in Calfornia are still strong. In February, prices soared an annual 20% or more in Los Angeles County, with the median price of a previously owned home in Los Angeles County soaring an annual 21.4% to $473,350, down 0.5% from January. The statewide median increased an annual 20.4% to $471,620 and dipped 2.9% from January. Sales increased 6% from a year earlier. Nationally, according to the Los Angeles Times, sales of existing U.S. homes fell 0.4% in February, while home prices rose at double-digit rates. Sales of previously owned homes declined to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.79 million units last month, and the national median home price jumped 11% to $191,000 from the same month a year earlier. The Daily News article noted that if sales activity proceeds at February’s pace, consumers will buy 608,170 homes by the end of 2005. And during the year’s first two months, statewide sales are 5.2% higher than a year earlier and up 6.1% in Los Angeles County. Appreciation rates are expected to average 15% this year from the 20% range of 2004. Mortgage rates are expected to rise but to a level still considered low by historical standards. Last month, the 30-year fixed rate averaged 5.63%, not much different from the 5.64% of a year ago. Adjustable rates averaged 4.16% last month, up from 3.55% a year ago. Lastly, it took on average 14 days longer last month to sell a house than a year ago.

    Update: According to CNN Money, as a result of the recent Fed action, the average rate on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages climbed to 6.01%, with an average 0.7 of a point payable up front, up from 5.95% the previous week. Last year at this time, the rate on the 30-year fixed-rate loan stood at 5.40%. The average 15-year mortgage rate averaged 5.56%, with a 0.7 percent payable up front, up from 5.47% the previous week. A year ago, the 15-year rate averaged 4.70%. Five-year adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) averaged 5.35%, with an average 0.7 point payable up front, up from 5.31% the week before. One-year adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs) averaged 4.24%, up from last week’s 4.20%, with an average 0.8 of a point payable up front. At this time last year, the one-year ARM rate averaged 3.36%.

    What does this all mean. First, I always note that they give the median price, not the average price. This likely prevent skewing of the price, but might be influenced differently depending on the inventory. Second, things are starting to cool. I’m curious what the signs of the bubble bursting were in 1990, and are they being repeated again. Still, it is still better to buy now. (And yes, I’m still working things out in my head regarding our options).

  • From the So Live In Your Car department: The Los Angeles Times is reporting that GM could be phasing out another nameplate if performance doesn’t increase soon. GM’s vice chairman is quoted as saying, “GM’s Buick and Pontiac are both “damaged brands” because of lack of investment over the years, and GM is working to correct that with an array of new vehicles coming to market”. GM most recently phased out the Oldsmobile brand, and Chrysler phased out the Plymouth brand. On the other side of the ocean, we are seeing Hyundai roar. According to USA Today, Hyundai and Kia, owned by the same South Korean conglomerate, are investing heavily in the USA. They are adding dealers, introducing an ambitious slate of new vehicles and courting increasingly upscale customers. They are making XM radio standard in all vehicles, and have seen remarkably improving quality in their lines, especially Hyundai. Toyota sees them as a threat. Meanwhile, Audi and Nissan are fighting over who can use the letter “Q” in car names. This has gone as far as a lawsuit!

    With respect to GM: Which nameplate do you think goes first? My bets are Buick. Nameplates convey certain images: Cadillac is classy; Chevy is middle-of-the-road; Pontiac is sporty; and we know about Hummers and Saturns. Where does Buick fit now?

    With respect to Hyundai: They are now where Datsun (now Nissan) and Toyota were in the early 1970s. Remember the Datsun B210. They are just about to hit it big, once they get the quality issues down. We are about to see yet another American industry go down. The USA today article noted that gains of Hyundai and Kia are in sharp contrast to General Motors (GM) and Ford Motor (F), which were off 9.9% and 7.4% in the first two months of the year. When will the American car companies learn to have the quality and attributes that appeal to American consumers, and how will they overcome the poor reputation of the years.

  • From the Coming to a Snopes.Com Near You department: According to the LA Times, a women at a San Jose Wendy’s bit into a part of a human finger while eating chili Tuesday night. She supposedly spit it out and warned other diners to stop eating, witnesses said. According to officials, the fingertip was about 1 3/8 inches long. They believe that it belongs to a woman because of the long, manicured nail.

    First, how quickly do folks expect this to be embelleshed and attain urban legend status, such as the stories of a finger found in a can of menudo, hamburgers made with worm meat, or restaurants serving fried rats. Second, I didn’t know that things were so bad for Wendy’s in the Bay Area, or that meat prices were so bad, that they needed to go the Sweeney Todd route.

Lastly, a quick comment on the Teresa Schiavo case. Now that the Supreme Court has declined to hear the case, I hope that Ms. Schiavo passes quickly, and that her families put aside this legal wrangling and spend their last few days together with Ms. Schiavo. It’s time to move on with life.


GOP and Brain Damage

According to the AP, Senate Republicans have invited the severely brain-damagedTerri Schiavo to testify to Congress in a procedural move intended to keep her on life support. More specifically, the Senate Health Committee has requested that Terri and her husband Michael appear at an official committee hearing on March 28. A statement from the office of House Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., on Friday said the purpose of the hearing was to review health care policies and practices relevant to the care of non-ambulatory people, and that it is a federal crime to harm or obstruct a person called to testify before Congress, thus stopping any action that could threaten the health of the woman.

Sigh. Idiotic. As if Congress doesn’t have real work to do, like solving the budget problems, winning the war, keeping the world safe for democracy.

I realize they are used to working with people with brain damage, but this really tops the case. Let the poor woman die already, and let her family have some peace.

Update at 1:14 PM Pacific: The feeding tube was removed, after one judge blocked its remove, and then another judge said it was OK. Details here.

Something tells me this isn’t going to be the greatest of days.


Observations on the News: 2005-03-08 (Wednesday)

I haven’t done any observations on the news in a few days, so…

  • Food poisoning kills 29 children. Food poisoning is a tragedy, and I grieve with those parents that lost their children. However, this observation is more about the vendor that sold the tainted food. According to the article, when told that she was selling tainted cassava balls, the vendor “insisted nothing was wrong with them and ate a few to prove the point. Now she, too, is in critical condition.” Here we have a walking example of “not the brightest bulb in the bunch”. Folks, when told that the food you’re serving is poisoned, don’t say, “Oh it’s fine. See I can eat it.”. Sigh. Oh, and remember to cook your cassava root thoroughly before eating. In case of death, discontinue use.
  • Kids’ Rooms Becoming Multimedia Centers. AP is reporting that nearly a third of kids 8 to 18 say when they’re doing schoolwork at home, they’re often talking on the phone, surfing the Web, instant messaging, watching TV or listening to music at the same time. This is based off of a Kaiser Family Foundation survey that showed that 54 percent of children’s bedrooms had a VCR or DVD player last year, up from 36 percent in 1999, and 31 percent of kids had a computer in their room, up from 21 percent. Well, I know my daughter may hate me for it, but all she has in her room is a CD player and a phone (the phone is a remnant of when it was in her room so we could call the pediatrician when she was an infant). The TV and computers are in the main family area. The computer will remain there; she won’t get a TV until she’s much older. Parents need to know what their kids are watching, and where they surf. I think the findings of this study are even more an indictment of parents than children!
  • LexisNexis: 32,000 Consumers’ Data Stolen and Credit Card Data Stolen From Shoe Retailer. Remember when the viruses and worms started to hit, and people became really aware of the problem. Remember when the same thing happened with spam and phishing. Mark my words: articles such as this, as well as the recent ChoicePoint and Bank of America thefts, are serving to make people really aware of the identity theft issue. I know there are numerous bills (search on the string “Identity Theft”) in the California State Legislature on the issue. Some good advice I heard on this: you get three free credit reports a year (one from each company). Stagger the requests over 4 month intervals. Haven’t requested yours? Visit here, or if they aren’t free in your area yet, here.
  • Coach Accused of Licking Player’s Cuts. I liked the translation of this headline on this morning’s Morning Sedition on Air America: Nation’s Schools Unveil New Health Care Initiative.
  • Kroger’s Recovery Is in Slow Checkout Line; Loss Widens. And yet we see more fallout from the recent supermarket strike. Even with deep discounts, they haven’t been able to lure shoppers back to Ralphs and Food 4 Less. Gee, could it be that even with their “discounts”, the prices are higher, the service worse, and the quality poorer? Nah! Consider where the business has gone: “Ralphs hasn’t been able to attract all the customers it lost to rivals such as Trader Joe’s, Costco Wholesale Corp. and Stater Bros. Holdings Inc. during the 4½-month-long strike and lockout.”

Well, that’s it for today. In closing, a quote I saw in email this morning: “mere possession of a CISSP does not automatically make one an arrogant security moron, or drastically reduce one’s mental faculties.”


Observations on a Friday Morning

talonvaki posted a link this morning to the Popstrology site, which asks the musical question “What was the #1 song the week you were born?” For me, the answer is (drumroll please):

Running Bear (Johnny Preston)

This is a song I can truly say I never heard, although by some odd coincidence, I was “Little Running Bear” in Indian Guides when I was young. In fact, of the songs on either side of my week (Marty Robbins El Paso before, Mark Dinning Teen Angel after), the only one I know was the “after” song. Does this mean anything… probably not.

Thanks to the help of a coworker, I finally got the keyboard tray installled on the credenza, and the credenza moved into my office. As with any new piece of new furniture (well, new to me—it has obviously seen better days), it will have some impacts. First, I’ve got to get used to it: I have less table space around my screen, and (at least right now) the screen seems to shake more as I type. It will also cause some larger ripple effects in the office: first, I’m going to clean the office up, and second, I’ll see if I can do a slight rearrangement to get the spacing right in relation to other furniture. Preplanning with paper layouts is never quite the same.

I want to mention how proud I am of my daughter. Wednesday night, she came to me all upset. Her conscience was bothering her. It seems that in class, while correcting another student’s homework, she accidently turned the page to the answers from a unit test. She flipped the page back, but other students kept pressuring her to copy the answers. She kept saying no, but finally succumbed. Another student took that page home. She was all upset about this, worried about losing the teacher’s trust.

We counseled her to destroy the paper as soon as she regained it back, and to tell the teacher the truth about what happened. She did this yesterday. The teacher indicated she wasn’t planning on giving that test anyway, but was even more impressed with S&F’s honesty. She now has more trust with the teacher… plus she learned a very valuable lesson.

Good for her.

Now, off to rearrange the office, and get some work done.


I Hate Headaches/Sundry Observations

I hate headaches. I’ve been fighting one all day, with predictable results. Grrrr. I’m still trying to decide if I want to go to the speaker on Urban Archeology from the San Fernando Valley Historical Society tonight.

Two recent memes have gotten me thinking about things: the Unique Things I Have Done meme and the Significant Accomplishments in my Life meme. At least for me, most of the “unique” things were done in high school and college (and I could name more, like celebrating Soylent Green Day). However, most of the Significant Accomplishments have been in my professional career. Is this a demonstration of high school and college preparing you to do the “big things” in real life? I don’t know.

In the news:

  • AP is reporting that an appeals court has said that a man can sue for emotional distress after a women took his sperm, after oral sex, and used it to impregnate herself, and then sprung the pregnancy on him by filing a paternity suit two years later. However, he cannot sue for “theft”. The court noted: “She asserts that when plaintiff ‘delivered’ his sperm, it was a gift — an absolute and irrevocable transfer of title to property from a donor to a donee. There was no agreement that the original deposit would be returned upon request.” Just speaks for itself, doesn’t it.

  • CNN/Money is reporting that Walmart is going to have to look for another venue to build a store in New York City. However, the more telling part of the article is the part that says:

    And Scott [CEO of WalMart] defended buying cheap goods from places like Bangladesh where factory workers earn very little, one of the ways Wal-Mart is able to keep its prices so low. “I’ve been in the factories in Bangladesh,” he said. “It’s not the life you want to lead, it’s not the life I want to lead. But it’s a life that is very much a step up from the life that those people would otherwise lead.”

    This raises an interesting question: Are we so territorial that is it more important to pay workers minimum wage in the US, as opposed to paying significantly lower wages, but significantly improving life in the third-world?

Well, back to my wimpering…

Note: This entry was originally posted on Observations Along The Road (on as this entry by California Highway Guy. You may comment either here or there (where there are comment(s)).