High Cost of Dreams
Downhill Slide from Nosebleed Heights
Thursday, June 9, 2011
PRICE OF A HOME: It was spring, 1960. I’d just been hired by the News-Press and was house hunting. Well, folks, step back in time. I found a spanking-new tract house in Goleta for (are you sitting down?) $16,900.
No lawn or built-ins, but it had three bedrooms and two baths and wasn’t far from a new school.
I remember walking around the place, touching the crumbly stucco walls and wondering how long it would be before all the houses on the street would be bulldozed to make way for real homes.
How wrong I was. Imagine my surprise to get a note from the county a couple of years later informing me that the value of the house had actually gone up. The value of my car was sliding but the home was appreciating.
By the early 1970s, we were ready to move up and found a two-story home in Goleta with pillars like something out of Gone with the Wind. And it could be had for $50,000! Never in my life had I ever imagined owning such an expensive home.
Well, our next Goleta house a few years later cost around $100,000. Something was happening in Goleta-Santa Barbara.
Fast-forward to 2007: The median Santa Barbara home price — a type of average where there are as many sales for less as for more — was an astounding one million smackeroos.
And there seemed no end to the dizzying elevator ride. Homes — I was living in Santa Barbara by then — were worth more every day. We were all making money (on paper anyway) as we slept. That September of 2007, I wrote a column speculating on when we would hit the $2-million median price mark.
Soon, it seemed.
I quoted one well-known Santa Barbaran who figured we’d get there in six to nine years, maybe by 2013 to 2016. I won’t mention his name because, well, who knew? Meanwhile, some doubters were raising red flags; this just can’t last and go on forever and ever. Sure, Santa Barbara is a great place to live, and people just keep coming, racing each other up to driveways to buy a house. But still.
I moved again more than two years ago, buying at the top of the market. (I sold each house as I moved on and just have one.)
Then, as we all know, the bubble burst. Today, depending on what group you consult, the Santa Barbara median is about $810,000, not counting condos. Montecito, of course, is higher, more than $2 million.
With a bursting bubble, you can imagine how much my new place has plunged in value. It’s a weird feeling owning a home that’s actually been losing value and may still be in decline.
On the plus side, I now have no mortgage. First time since 1960. And I’m content here in San Roque and have no plans to move — unless, that is, I get a magic phone call with a deal I can’t resist.
The question now is this: When will we get back up to the $1-million median? Or do we want to? (Forget $2 mil.) The smart answer probably is this: No one knows. Who can figure this national economy? Nevertheless, over dinner the other night, a knowledgeable friend estimated that we’d be back to the million mark in about four years. But then, she’s an optimist by nature.
I drive by my old Goleta tract house now and then and note with pleasure that it’s still standing firm. Its market value I can’t guess. But sheltering a new family, no doubt, with dreams like ours were, dreams far more important than mortgage rates, escrow figures, and appreciation.
BULLSHOT CRUMMOND: This slapstick spoof of 1930s low-budget private-eye movies amounts to a night of tomfoolery at the Circle Bar B Dinner Theatre. Nice drive up Refugio Road, a barbecue dinner, and get-away-from-it-all laughs in the tiny theater. Through July 10.
WOODY’S DONE IT AGAIN: Midnight in Paris is Woody Allen’s love letter to the City of Light, not just as it is but as it was in the halcyon days of the 1920s. Time traveling, and what a great trip. A human love story, too.
THE FANTASTICKS: These days, we all need love and fantasy, if only for a few hours in a darkened, small theater. What can you say about a musical that ran for 42 years off-Broadway? I sat mesmerized as the Ensemble Theatre Company staged this magical bit of make-believe, starting with the lovely song that goes “Try to remember the kind of September when life was slow and oh, so mellow.” Through June 26.
CUUUU-CA-MON-GAAA!: Would you believe anything from a politician like Bob Dutton, who represents a place called Cucamonga? State Senate GOP leader Dutton is making news by opposing Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget plan. Reminds me of the running joke on the old Jack Benny show: “Train leaving on Track 5 for Anaheim, Azusa, and Cuuuu-ca-mon-gaaa!” Always got a laugh.