Goodbye Charlottesville Bubble Blogger(s) – for Now

Goodbye, Charlottesville Bubble Bloggers. Today marks their final post . Thanks for the insight, the forced introspection and for bringing some life to the Charlottesville real estate conversation. Please don’t let your blog become yet another abandoned internet place feeding dead links.*

Mid-2008 brought the advent of the Charlottesville Bubble Bloggers. Much consternation followed in the Charlottesville real estate agent community. They brought candor, some snark, brutal analysis and anonymity to the Charlottesville real estate conversation.

I, for one, welcomed them – engaged them thoughtfully and I’d like to think earned their respect (and they mine).

Late 2008 I interviewed them – all three of them – Jane, John and Snarky Doe – in a two-part email interview. Part One. Part Two.

Late 2009 they reviewed a bunch of houses (something I think a whole bunch of buyers would like to see more of).

And then in 2011 they interviewed some of the Charlottesville real estate agents who had engaged them** on their blog (as an aside, that image remains one of my all-time favorites).

Late 2012 they put together their thoughts on the Charlottesville market.

And so now, they are moving on … and have been so kind as to answer a few of my questions.

1 – Who are you? (don’t worry, we won’t tell anyone)

In the beginning “we” were several people who were interested in/shocked by prices/obsessed with real estate in Charlottesville and Albemarle. Though in ’08 and ’09 there was lot of blog snark (which was true across the Internets), we actually did and *do* love Charlottesville. It’s a fantastic place to live, and it’s too bad the secret is out. This makes the traffic truly awful; sometimes it seems very crowded; and RE prices are up, for good. (More on how that is true, and not true, in the final post on the C’ville Bubble Blog).

2009 and 2010 were awful years for the American Economy, home owners, savers, and millions of workers. Our belief system turned to Econogeddon and Prepper, and we became hand-wringers over the control Too Big to Jail Banks had and have over the US Government and political parties, property-owners, and potential buyers. We chronicled this in terms of the local and national.

It remains a fact that many people will never recover their standard of living and neither would have the rest of us w/out the kick-the-can-down-the-road heroics of money-printing Fed Chair Ben Bernanke and Treasury Sec Tim Geithner.

Along the way, through life-changes and the improving economy, “we” morphed into “I”…around the time the blog took to Twitter. Tweeting is a lot more efficient than blogging, though certainly not less time-consuming. 2011 was a busy year of blogging–but mostly because there was a lot going on.

There were signs that housing was entering a new phase by early 2012, with the National Fraudclosure Settlement, though it ultimately was to provide not much relief for home owners. There was a New Year’s resolution to wrap up the blog…which got derailed. But the last blogger standing did manage to generate 80% less content than previous years :0).

2a. Okayfine. Could you have written as you have had you not been anonymous?
Now that it’s 2013, an anonymous blogger or internet entity might need to be explained. The Internet now is Nice. But back when the blog started, mid-2008, ‘anonymity’ on the web was still a viable, if not preferable, option. Many people still had funny little names as email addresses, and blogged, or commented on blogs, with wacky monikers.

Locally, there was an extremely popular website / gossip extravaganza called The Cvillain, which was up-to-the second, in-the-know, controversial, snarky, anonymous. Nationally, there were a number of housing and econ blogs that were widely read and anonymous: Zero Hedge with lead blogger Tyler Durden; Dr. Housing Bubble; Calculated Risk, who was known as CR (but is now known as Bill McBride), who co-blogged with one of the best writers about mortgages and the bubble, called Tanta, whose identity was only revealed after she died in 2009. There was precedence.

Could we have written the same if we had not been anonymous? Probably not. People would have looked at our current or previous jobs or pursuits or financial status or owner status, rather than the data on the blog.

What’s equally interesting as our own (and my own) anonymity is the kind of people who rejected it or accepted it. There’s one particular TV station in town that wouldn’t have anything to do with the blog, at least publicly. But NBC29 and Daily Progress, The Hook, and C-VILLE reporters were savvy enough to use it as a resource and interact via Twitter.

Too, the blog had long-term private email and Twitter correspondence with a number of area RE agents, home buyers and sellers, finance guys, UVA profs. None of the correspondents spent too much time pondering the anonymous question.

2 – Do you think the bottom is here? The end of 2011, and the Q1 of 2012 was, anecdotally, the bottom of the bust.   I believe the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County have seen their price bottoms, especially in the “First Time Homebuyer” category of under $300k. It’s a question of very low inventory. Here’s a national chart on pricing which confirms pricing ideas.

But the most convincing bit of data for Q4 2011/ Q1 2012 being the bottom is that several of the blog’s long-term commenters / correspondents bought houses: “Serious Buyer,” “Craigger,” “Anonymous,” among them.
These folks tracked the local and nat’l markets closely for years and independently decided to finally buy, deciding if it wasn’t “the” bottom, it was close enough. And with mortgage interest rates solidly under 4%, they were all happy.

3 – What 3 things have you learned since you started writing?

1. A graph can do the work of three long paragraphs.
2. Short paragraphs are ideal for blogging.
3. Sometimes asking a question and letting the reader answer it is better than devoting three long paragraphs to what you think the answer should be.
4. The best blogs have niche content and definite point of view, manifested in voice.

4 – What are three things you’d tell someone new to Charlottesville about our real estate market?  These suggestions are for somebody sure they will buy, and who will be here 7-10 years:

A. Charlottesville is a collection of micro markets. You need to spend a significant amount of time here (6 months to a year) actively learning the areas or neighborhoods you’re interested in before purchase. Every weekend go exploring. Buy or borrow a dog specifically so you can walk around neighborhoods with a purpose w/out looking like a lunatic, and talk to every dog owner you meet. They always know what’s up because they have regular schedules and are observant while waiting for doggy to do his biz. As the area is having an apartment building boom, there are plenty of very nice places to live temporarily.

B. This area is has a lot of wealth, a lot of poverty, and several different levels of “middle class.” There’s a lot of self-segration in terms of economic classes, and there are still a lot of race issues as well. The upside is that there’s an awareness of the racial issues, and there are some folks who are aiming for change (City of Cville). There can, at times, be a town-and-gown mentality: you can find UVA folks who know or do nothing outside of Grounds; and “townies” who haven’t set foot on Grounds (nor even given it a thought) in years.

C. Buy a house with enough property so that you can grow food–kitchen gardens and fruit bushes and trees. You don’t need much land to grow a lot of food. Even a quarter acre with good sun can yield a lot of crops. Make sure you have the soil tested–you may be living on an old industrial site or mill, or even a dump or burial area or Civil War camp from so long ago that it is out of memory–which can impact your food. While you are surveying the land for food growth possibilities, take into account every aspect of weather disaster that can impact the ground as well as the house. As we have all learned recently, this area is subject to everything–Snowmageddon, microburst, earthquake, derecho, drought, Snowquester, twisters….Plan accordingly.

D. If you have children, question everything you read about the public schools. Go and visit them yourself. Take the tours. Make sure you want to tie yourself via a home purchase to that school district (And be aware that you can be redistricted). And try to answer for yourself why there are enough private schools in this area to serve a population of 1 million.

5 – Is there anything you got significantly wrong? Anything you’d have done differently?

Wrong and different: Should have spent more time criticizing the NAR. Not Realtors–the NAR. This is a hard market to navigate without a real estate agent, fwiw, and many of them are Realtors. Many of them are nice, honest people. But the NAR is a trade organization devoted to making its members money by masquerading as a community beneficence whose primary purpose is to help people achieve the American Dream. It’s wrong. It’s misleading. And they lied. A lot.  

Also could have spent more time questioning The Daily Progress back in the day before it was owned by a Warren Buffet subsidiary. It seemed to publish puff pieces to appease advertisers. For instance. It’s a better publication now. And we did our self righteous educate-the-public part.

As for wrong: like pretty much every other housing or econ blog, we worried about The Shadow Inventory and how it would drag prices into the toilet, causing more people to lose houses and $$$. As it turns out, Too Big to Jail Banks, with the help of the Fraudclosure settlement and the complicity of banking regulators and the US Attorneys General, have been able to hold foreclosures off the market. No one could foresee this.

Done differently: Probably could have taken more seriously the job offers that came via the blog.

6 – What question would you ask yourself if you were a reader?  
Is housing really in “recovery” right now?   The shortish answer is No, housing is not in recovery. But it’s a better time to buy and sell than it has been in years. And it’s a more complicated answer than “No.” There are elements of housing that are doing well, and some areas so well that we’re about to see bubble pricing again (see final post on blog for more about this).

And “Is now a good time to buy?” For the long answer, see our final post. Here’s the short answer: It’s a good time to buy if you’re in it for the long haul. The short term buyer, who disappeared from this market, may be buoyed by rising prices and think it’s time to jump in: but we’re in for another price “correction” around 2016, when interest rates rise again (or are slated to, at this point). And there’s the worrisome ongoing lack of younger buyers who are saddled with student loan debt and different notions of what constitutes “The American Dream.”

7. Why are you ending blog?  In 2012, the blog had 80% fewer posts than in 2011. Lots of interesting things happened, but much of it got covered on our Twitter feed. Housing is fascinating, but the planet, and what is happening to it, are of serious concern. I will be spending whatever time used to be devoted to blogging about housing helping others to learn about climate change. Please please go to 350.org.

8.  Will you continue tweeting?  Yes. I use Twitter in the old school way–no Tweet Deck, no handheld, and I read people’s feeds day by day or a few days at a time–or I just read what comes across my screen in real time from people I follow (even tho not all of them are in real time). It’s fascinating.

9. Is Jim Duncan the Bubble Blogger? (Question added by interviewees). No, he’s just a good ‘net friend. It’s a compliment to the Bubble Blog that people have thought the guy behind RealCentralVA was bubbling from the beginning. But no, he’s not. He also claims not to know who the blogger(s) are….And the Bubble Blog owes him a huge Thanks (and a lot of beer) for the data and bloggercamaraderie through the years.

* Set a reminder every 6 months to login; I do the same thing so I keep my hotmail address. Not that I need it. :)

** At my behest. I thought (and think) that engaging your detractors in a candid way will either build a relationship or demonstrate your humilit

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About Jim Duncan

Father, husband, Charlottesville real estate agent, bicycle rider & soccer coach. And more. Lots more.
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  • http://www.smallchichome.com/ Jeannine @ Small & Chic Home

    I love the Bubble Blog! I loved that their snark was always backed up. It was a great read even when I wasn’t in the market.

    Of course, I’ll continue to follow on Twitter. :)

  • Mark Davison

    I hadn’t looked at it in a few years. It was good when it first came out because it was local and featured local listings, builders/flippers and realtors, often calling them out for their ridiculousness.

    But after a while it became less local and simultaneously more ideological, just regurgitating national statistics that fit its doom-and-gloom worldview, with an occasional once-over the Charlottesville market.
    I would love to see a blog critiquing local house listings, the expensive ones, the quick flips with no basis for a $100k price increase, etc. Even the Hook’s “On the Block” has gone downhill, reducing its number of house tours (1/week to 1/month), covering whole neighborhoods and generally seeming like a CAAR puff piece.