Charlottesville’s Bubble Bloggers Revealed – Part 1

And their names are Jane Doe, John Doe, and Snarky Doe.

cVillains and I must have been drinking the same Kool Aid, as we both have interviews with the Real C’Ville bubble bloggers … If you haven’t read the Charlottesville Bubble Blog, you’re missing out. They can be brash and snarky at times, but their anonymity gives them freedom and license to write about subjects I can’t touch on this blog. In addition, their critical analysis has proven to be insightful, and their commenters frequently give “on the ground” opinion. As far as I can tell, their audience is comprised of buyers, sellers, voyeurs, Realtors and others with and without sticks in the real estate fire.

I am thankful for their time and responses to my questions. Some (Realtors) may question my reaching out to the Bubble Bloggers, as they have occasionally targeted fellow Realtors. True, but the commentary they provide is valuable and fills a void in the real estate discussion in Charlottesville.

One of my goals is to encourage all of my clients and readers to educate themselves as much as possible; there are a few real estate blogs in the Charlottesville area – this is one that should be considered, if only for their candor and “contrary” point of view. This point of view is crucial; groupthink is dangerous, and Real C’Ville provides thoughtful, intelligent commentary, as they prove with their responses below. If nothing else, they help to keep us accountable and on our toes. * ….

How many of you are there?

There are two and a half of us. Two write most of the material; the other one synthesizes newspaper articles and other blog posts, and does the layout and posting work. She actually is a regular contributor to a couple of blogs, regional and NYC, with a real identity. She keeps trying to leave us on our own, but then some article will break or she’ll get interested in a property and stay on.

What was your inspiration for the blog?

There was a particular house that came on the market in the Winter that a bunch of folk in our circle of friends thought was ridiculously overpriced. Nationwide, prices were dropping, but here was this place 20% higher than last year’s version. And when we tromped through the open house, none of us could believe it. Someone commented that it would be an “outsider” who’d pay that kind of coin—and in fact, it was a couple from the Northeast, come here to work in Finance, who bought the place 90-120 days after listing. That house never appeared on the blog, but it inspired conversations, and motivated watching CAAR, Craigslist, the printed materials, and neighborhood signs more closely. We’d already been reading bubble blogs, and were of course inspired by these. There are some bubble blogs that are national, some that are regional, and some that are local, focusing on properties, and we’ve linked to them on Real C’ville.

Do you intend to have the vitriol that has become commonplace on Housing Panic and the Housing Bubble Blog?

We don’t intend the vitriol on those blogs—which we actually admire (the blogs as well as the vitriol). We like passion. Some of our commenters tend to wax more vitriolic than we do. Because the other blogs are so impassioned, we can remain a touch more balanced. Which, anyway, probably goes over better around here (know your audience, etc.). A lot of the vitriol is aimed at those who are considered greedy, and those who could have prevented the “credit crisis” from getting as bad as it has. This is more than deserved, in our humble opinion. This economy will weaken the finances of the majority of citizens, individually, for years to come. And to the rest of the world, we look like piggish idiots. It’s not good politically, among other things.

Do you rent or own?

This is an important question, because it gives insight to whether or not the blog is just a bitter rant from people locked out of the market, or more balanced in its presentation.

Of the two primary bubblers, one of us owns, the other one rents. The renter rents from the owner. The part-time galpal, we’re unsure of. She’s something of a mystery. She’s working on her laptop all the time, it seems—blogging. But what else is she doing? She doesn’t go to an office. She always has plenty of money, nice car, accouterments. She rents a big house in town. We think there’s a trust fund somewhere, but she won’t be pinned down. Of the other two, the one who rents has far more money than the one who owns. The one who rents may own in a year or two, presumably, when prices seem like they won’t decline. But right now this one, the renter—says he’d feel “rooked” if he bought a house. As if it were made of clouds or were just an illusion. He uses the word “rooked” all the time. He pays off his credit cards every month, and he’s an online rate-chaser (moving savings deposits from one bank to another, for best rates, more popular when the Fed was higher and banks were paying more).

Probably other people have made the following observation, but it says a lot about the housing market here and nationwide. His contention is that when mortgages were “free” or “cheap” –requiring no down payment, and low payments for a period of years before resetting–a lot of people were able to disconnect the house from the actual price. If you could get a $400K house for $1200 a month for the first three years, something with a big yard, 3 bedrooms, etc., it seems like a deal, especially if it were to “appreciate” 15-30% the next year and the next. You’d make a profit with very little outlay (due to “leverage”) when you wanted to sell. But if you were to buy a 1600 sq ft house now for $399K and actually parted with $80+K as a down payment, plus all sorts of costs and fees, totaling let’s say perhaps $100K, you’d still be paying (at 6.8%) nearly Two Grand a month. For 30 years.

So you’d been wiped out of a big chunk of change, and you still had large monthlies, plus property taxes, maintenance, whatever touch-ups or renovations you wanted to do, need for new furniture or appliances, etc. Ouch. People used to wait and sacrifice to make what was typically the biggest and most important purchase of their lives for this very reason. But during the Bubble, a house purchase turned into more or less the equivalent of buying a car. (And we all know how Americans at every income level love buying much fancier cars than they should).

Ed Note: I decided to break this up into two parts. Part 2 will be published next Monday.


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11 Comments

  1. Pingback: Charlottesville’s Bubble Bloggers - Part 2 | Real Central VA

  2. GAM August 15, 2008 at 08:47

    Both realcentralva and Cvillain have recently enjoyed the Bubble Bloggers’ “vitriol” and freedom to write about whatever they want …but I’ve been bothered about how much of that vitriol has to do with the presence of African Americans in a neighborhood. See their current post in which it is carefully noted that “This is the 10th & Page Neighborhood, which today is primarily African American”…followed by a snarky reference just a few lines later to “drive-by shootings.” Check out their critiques of Belmont real estate, which frequently refer to Friendship Court and…drive-by shootings. Similar comments refer to mixing by economic class.
    I have no idea if any of this is meaningful in terms of the bubblers actual, personal attitudes, and it’s not to say that some of the real estate mentioned is not in fact overpriced…but it does seem that these fearless bloggers show a mindset that reflects long-standing assumptions about race, class, and the make-up of “desirable” communities that marred the real estate profession – in Cville and around the US – for far too long.

    Reply
  3. Jim Duncan August 15, 2008 at 09:00

    A point of clarification – I (as the sole author on RealCentralVA) do not enjoy vitriol – theirs or anyone’s.

    This is not an attempt to defend …

    I haven’t seen any vitriolic references to racial makeups, and if I do/did, I would draw attention to it as there’s no place for that on this site.

    Is anything that they say untrue? The source of the reference to the racial makeup is the Charlottesville Community Design Center, not the bubble bloggers.

    I for one, didn’t draw a correlation between racial makeup of neighborhoods and crime, but see them as separate facts independent of each other. That Friendship Court has had recent shootings is a fact as well, no?

    Regarding the desirability of neighborhoods – I have never had clients say that they want to live in neighborhoods with violent (or non-violent) crime. I have had people ask about racial makeup and I direct them to where they can find that information – the C’ville Design Center, eNeighborhoods, Census data – I try to be the “source of the source.”

    I have had people ask very racist questions about neighborhoods … and I’ve told them I choose not to work with them.

    I don’t see talking about racial makeup and/or crime information as a “bad” thing, nor do I draw a line between the two, nor do I see discussing either as a reflection of any “long-standing assumptions.”

    For better or worse, buyers do ask for demographic makeups of areas, and sending them to where they can find the data is part of my job.

    Reply
  4. gam August 15, 2008 at 10:04

    Thanks for your post, Jim. Here a few examples of what I’m talking about:

    On May 24, referring to an MLS listing on Avon St., the bubble bloggers refer to gang tagging, and then close with the point that “Garrett Square is just one block away.” [emphasis original]. Seems to me this is pretty heavily racially coded – operating on an assumption that the property can’t be this valuable if there is a housing project nearby. Granted, they don’t make a specific reference to race here – but with all the coded language they don’t have to. This is the kind of long-standing realtor practice that I’m referring to, designed to provoke panic.

    On May 17, referring to an MLS listing on Belmont Ave: “We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: BELMONT will never be the RUGBY ROAD area. It will always have the ghetto nearby, and it will always have the dumpy aluminum-siding shacks built on the tiny spaces where folks sold their yards. It is an economically stratified area, not a “diverse culture.” It will always be old working class & poverty vs. new bourgeois money.” [much of this is italicized in the original ]. So on this set of assumptions, Belmont Ave. is a bad place to live because it is near the ghetto. This one is barely even coded about its racial assumptions. And the bit about economic stratification shows a clear presumption about class as well – that everyone should live in neighborhoods with people of the same economic status, just like it is in most suburban neighborhoods. And to reemphasize their point, they close the post with the observation, in italics, that “Garrett Square is a block away.” [note that they can’t even get the name right, using the old name instead].

    In a 7/1 reference to Carlton Ave property, they object to the following: “Directly behind the property is 1000 Monticello Road aka the subsidized Belmont Apartments.” And of course, no one with any money would want to live near Section 8. They also complain about the Belmont Apartments in a May 5 post (about a property on Belmont Ave) during a tirade against the fact that the neighborhood has some mixed use – they even complain about the presence of Virginia Industries for the Blind down the street – a completely innocuous operation – and about the school buses at Clark Elementary school! And of course, they work in a snarky comment that no one who can afford this house would send their kids to Clark – they might be surprised if they actually learned something about Clark, which happens to be a great school that serves a very diverse student population.

    As to your point about crime: of course no one want to live in a high crime area. But Belmont is not a high crime area, and hyperventilating about one incident at Friendship Court is engaging in scare tactics designed to attack neighborhoods and people that don’t match what the bubblers see as desirable. While I commend you for turning away the racists, the sad reality is that realtors have for years, all across the country, used the language and assumptions displayed by the bubble bloggers to reinforce racial and class norms about housing. Were/are those realtors responding in part to the market? Of course they were – but they are also reinforcing the norms and assumptions that produced that market. And so are the bubble bloggers.

    As I said in my first comment, I have no idea what the bubblers’ actual, personal attitudes are…but in these posts they repeatedly show major issues with mixed use, mixed race, and mixed class neighborhoods. That’s not to say they aren’t correct about some of the overpricing around town, and about some of the implications of gentrification – they probably are – but they need to be called out for the above assumptions, rather than celebrated as they have been of late. At the very least, the point should be made that not everyone in Cville is as afraid of heterogeneous neighborhoods as they seem to be.

    Reply
  5. Real C'ville - The Bubble Blog August 15, 2008 at 11:12

    Hi, Gam–

    You’re even more sanctimonious than we are. Impressive.

    We’re not opposed to “heterogeneous neighborhoods.” As we said in a post just yesterday, in re: the 10th & Page neighborhood, “We’re big proponents of “diversity” in neighborhoods, meaning mixed racially, ethnically, economically, religiously, aesthetically, and in terms of “life-style” choices.”

    What we ARE opposed to is HALF MILLION DOLLAR HOUSES–a ridiculous asking price when The Ghetto is a block away. Don’t kid yourself by calling that place anything other than what’s a politically charged word. It doesn’t change the reality.

    And what you call “one incident at Friendship Court”? That was a MURDER. Charlottesville has a Gang Problem–and part of it is because of the division between the “Haves”–those who can afford HALF MILLION DOLLAR HOUSES in Belmont–and the HAVE NOTS–those in Friendship Square and The Belmont Apartment.

    And how’s this for a racially charged statement? When a WHITE PERSON gets killed in gang related activity, THEN there will be adequate attention paid to the problem.

    Cheers.

    Reply
  6. Real C'ville - The Bubble Blog August 15, 2008 at 11:40

    Additionally, Gam, Why are you bothering Jim with this? It seems like you’re insinuating that Jim is just like what you think the Bubble Bloggers are–racist, classist bigots.

    It’s not fair to try to trap him into “defending” himself from what are bogus mis-readings from someone who seems hyper-sensitive.

    And why aren’t you posting all this on The Bubble Blog?

    Though we have to say, you seem intent on misreading certain posts.

    When we said the following about Belmont:

    “We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: BELMONT will never be the RUGBY ROAD area. It will always have the ghetto nearby, and it will always have the dumpy aluminum-siding shacks built on the tiny spaces where folks sold their yards. It is an economically stratified area, not a “diverse culture.” It will always be old working class & poverty vs. new bourgeois money.”

    We are referring to the fact that the PRICES ARE TOO HIGH for what you get–aesthetically and otherwise, and that there’s a lot of HYPE about “diversity” that is just that for the area–“hype.” It’s not happy lovey-dovey land.

    Can you argue that Rugby Road area is equivalent to Belmont? Not unless you want to start writing fiction.

    Again, we invite your vitriol over at the Bubble.

    Cheers

    Reply
  7. Jim Duncan August 15, 2008 at 14:54

    Gam and BB – Thanks for the comments and the discussion.

    One point regarding this –

    the sad reality is that realtors have for years, all across the country, used the language and assumptions displayed by the bubble bloggers to reinforce racial and class norms about housing. Were/are those realtors responding in part to the market? Of course they were – but they are also reinforcing the norms and assumptions that produced that market.

    I’ve never seen nor heard evidence of this in this market, nor would I tolerate it. This is a pretty broad and sweeping generalization that is in accurate in it broadness. Some Realtors may, just as some private citizens may as well; accusing someone (speaking of myself) of “coded” language speaks more, I think to stereotypes rather than reality.

    This is the kind of long-standing realtor practice that I’m referring to, designed to provoke panic.

    Panic? Please provide evidence of this, as again, I have not seen this in my admittedly short seven years of experience.

    On a related note, this is an interesting article that shows both sides of the fair housing coin (read the comments).

    Reply
  8. Mark August 15, 2008 at 17:04

    Gam, your anger is misdirected. Take it up with the Bubble Bloggers, don’t bother Jim with your hypersensitive desire to label someone racist.
    Just a small point, I think the guy murdered at 10th & Page was white, if that was the guy in the car with his buddy.

    Reply
  9. Jim Duncan August 15, 2008 at 18:11

    Again, thanks everyone for the discussion, albeit if it’s a bit discomforting one …

    Regarding this –

    It will always have the ghetto nearby … So on this set of assumptions, Belmont Ave. is a bad place to live because it is near the ghetto. This one is barely even coded about its racial assumptions

    Who’s making the assumptions about race here?

    Belmont, Monticello Avenue, Elliot, etc – are among the most desirable locations in the City primarily because of their locations – in the City. People want diversity and non-homogeneity and … this is perhaps most important – the location close to the Downtown Mall, Mas, Beer Run, ACAC, the Warehouse District, etc, etc, etc – strictly from a market point of view, race and class matter notsomuch when one can walk anywhere in 10 minutes or less.

    Reply
  10. Larry August 15, 2008 at 19:57

    Don’t have the link, but the 10th & Page incident, as reported in Daily Prog a week or so ago was apparently a domestic dispute. Don’t know the race(s) of those involved. I’d want to know what the crime stats are for any neighborhood where I might buy.

    FWIW, anybody bold enough to call a part of the city a ghetto is going to raise anger in some quarters.

    The fact is, Friendship Square fits the def of ghetto from high school civics class: a densely populated area typically filled with people of a minority group, often as a result of socio-economic restrictions.

    Things need to change–we need more “Affordable Housing,” real affordable housing. But it’s almost impossible now due to the boom, when wage-to-price ratios for houses got so out of whack.

    What’s the solution?

    Reply
  11. gam August 15, 2008 at 20:28

    A fair point that I should have posted to the bubble blog. I was motivated by it when I read it on Jim’s blog and just posted there – spontaneity, after all being part of the blogosphere.

    jim – regarding realtor practices, I’m referring to broad practices, nationallly, over the last 50 years. There’s a really large historical literature on this, and some of the language I referenced in ways that I find troublesome. Does it happen in Cville? In the past, I’d say almost certainly; for the present, I’ll defer to your experience.

    As far as jim’s most recent post, the first part was quoted from the bubble blog. After that, I was making a point (and trying to challenge) what I saw as the logical implications of the statement I quopted. But Jim’s point about what’s desirable about Belmont is exactly the way I feel about the neighborhood, and it’s why I took issue bubblers’ attacks on it (and sorry, but they do come across as about more than just house prices). Belmont has different qualities than Rugby Rd (and yes, a few challenges that Rugby doesn’t) but it’s those positive qualities are why people love it.

    Maybe Cville does have a gang problem, but as Larry states above, it’s intertwined with a poverty problem, and a segregation problem (btw, is there another neighborhood that is as racially integrated as Belmont? This is informational, as I’m not sure…), and an affordable housing problem. I’m not sure that hyperbolic, racially charged language is a terribly constructive way to deal with it.

    Anyway, sanctimonious or not, just had to stand up for my neighborhood.

    Reply

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