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April 23, 2006

Ups and Downs

Tom McLaughlin

Humor by Tom McLaughlin

As a reporter for a local newspaper here on the good ole Eastern Shore, one of my jobs is to write happy real estate articles. This is because most of the paper contains ads for houses and condos for the second home market. There is a lot of truth in the old adage “don’t bite the hand that feeds you.”

Trying to compose joyful reports on a declining venture is like stating a shark attack was just a guppy’s kiss. There is no easy way to blissfully communicate that overpriced condos and vacation homes are starting to decline in value because there will be over 700 new units coming on the market this summer with another few hundred slated to Katrina Ocean City this fall.

I usually begin by talking to real estate agents who want nothing but a Disney picture cartooned, and who also refuse to go on the record to be quoted. They will not predict the future in the great and realistic fear they will be held accountable.

Everybody’s usual scapegoat for the decline is “investors have left the market.” I really don’t know who these people are, where they went and how they make money. They are responsible for such things as the Beanie Baby craze, Jim Beam Bottle collections and other tanked ventures of the past.

Many heirs are cleaning out attics and basements of baskets of whiskey bottles from what they thought were tea-totaling parents. They came to the conclusion, wrongly, that mom and dad were bombed most of their childhood and that is the reason for their failure in life, never, ever realizing they have themselves to blame and something called accountability.

I began to study the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) for clues to where these investors went. If you are like me, you usually find out something was a good investment after the craze had folded. Apparently, they all went to commodities; gold, in particular.

From the end of 2005 to the present, which coordinates nicely with the beginning of the end of the housing boom, the price of the metal jumped from about $400 to $603 an ounce as of Easter Monday and is expected, by accounts to surpass the 1980 mark of $850 and march on to $2,000 an ounce.

All of this sounds very familiar as I bought gold at $825/oz in 1980 with every one in the Jeddah souk convincing me it would hit the $2,000 mark and stay there. The price, of course, tanked to a low of $255. The metal ended up with my ex-wife after a dispute of whether it was a gift or an investment, and, of course, it is now worth a lot more since the settlement.

If you have some cash, wait until fall and buy a condo in Ocean City. Negotiate hard, shop wisely and purchase it with the intent it will be for the exclusive use of you and your family. Then, take them to the seaside. Often! I love Christmas on the beach.

The price of the New Zealand and Icelandic money has fallen against the dollar (WSJ) and great deals are to be had on vacations. Besides, the envy of your neighbors, because you will be vacationing in a place they have never heard of, will be worth it. I doubt you will hear “I spent many happy days in Reykjavik” from any of them.

Family is your best investment and the lifetime memories of adventures and explorations in strange and wonderful places will not rise and fall with the Dow Jones.

Yellow Cab
The Morning News Express with Bob Miller
The Covert Letter

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