Just discovered this post was gobbled before it made it to the blog. Too busy to reconstruct my part of it, but here's the quote from Bill Lindeke that prompted some musings about adaptive reuse of our dying malls, foreclosed subdivisions and abandoned car dealerships.
And here's another good read, about Surprise, Arizona, and how it illustrates how the housing boom went so wrong.
Just because a place is relatively cheap doesn't make housing affordable, however. That brings us back to the Guerros. They wanted a nicer house than they could afford, so their lender offered a solution: An adjustable-rate mortgage. Their monthly payments were $2,700. Of course, the bank would jack up their rates after two years, but it didn't matter. With home values climbing steadily, they could refinance before the rate reset, pull out enough cash to buy a jetski or a new car, and keep their mortgage payments in check. In other words, the banks were creating affordable housing where it didn't really exist; with easy and tricky loans, they were creating purchasing power, or demand. Tens of thousands of such loans were issued in Arizona, and the major homebuilders even got into the game, offering financing in a manner more often associated with car manufacturers.
This artificially inflated demand did the trick. In just five years, Surprise gained another 50,000 people, and added more than 7,000 homes in 2005 alone. Maricopa County -- which contains the bulk of the greater Phoenix metro area -- grew faster than anywhere else in the country, and the Phoenix area issued more than 62,000 residential building permits. The economy responded: In 2006, Arizona's gross domestic product grew by 6.7 percent, compared to 3.1 percent for the nation as a whole. The construction industry provided 9 percent of all non-farm jobs in Arizona, making it by far the biggest employer in the state. Those jobs drew more people, who took out more loans to buy more houses, creating more demand … you get the picture.
Housing prices soared -- nearly doubling, on average, over two years -- to create almost instant wealth. Speculation was so rampant that it threw population estimates for a loop. Last year, with the bust in full swing, state and local officials discovered that their method of counting people -- by starting with 2000 census numbers and then estimating population using the number of houses built and sold -- didn't work. They had assumed an occupancy rate of 98 to 99 percent, when in fact at least one of every 10 new homes was sitting empty, even before the bust. A lot of people were making a lot of money. A lot of people would lose money, too.