“I remember in 2003 my mother had a New Year’s Eve party at our family home in Málaga, in southern Spain, at which over 80 people sat for dinner, including most of my old friends still around from high school days. That night I had one of those epiphanies (as you often do on New Year’s Eve, I guess) about the real estate market when I suddenly realized that nearly every one at the party was involved in one way or the other in real estate. Most of the people there (including my Persian sister-in-law) were real estate developers, real estate agents, real estate lawyers, architects, or owners of building and construction companies. All of them lived off (and had prospered mightily from) the real estate boom in southern Spain.
But this cannot be, I thought in my naiveté. If the only industry around is real estate, then we must be living through a real estate bubble of enormous proportions.
Later that night I spoke to one of my old high-school friends, Andy, who was at the time a prosperous real estate agent with houses in Marbella (purchased on borrowed money, naturally), a Mercedes, and all the trappings that accrue to an immensely charming and self-confident real estate agent during a real estate boom. In our conversations, and ones that took place subsequently over the next few years, I warned him that the property market in the south of Spain looked out of control, and it would be a good idea from him to diversify his savings out of real estate.
Same old same old
Of course Andy didn’t. He explained to me that what we were seeing in southern Spain was not a bubble because there were very strong reasons to believe that real estate prices were undervalued and were going to rise a lot more. Europe, he told me, is aging rapidly, and old people, as everyone knows, like nothing better than to retire in some warm and sunny place, preferably on the beach. With an infinite supply of European old people and limited European beachfront property, mostly in Spain, Italy, and Greece, where in addition you had great food, warm-hearted people, and plenty of immigrants to keep the prices of services (and servants) down, it was certain, Andy explained, that real estate prices would not decline. The demand was insatiable at almost any price.
This seemed like a perfectly reasonable argument on the face of it, and it was widely proposed to justify ever-soaring Spanish real estate prices for many years, not just on the Spanish coast but also, perhaps a little bizarrely, in every nook and cranny of the country, including some pretty gray and inaccessible building projects outside cold, northern industrial cities.
The weakness in the argument, of course, was that although there might have been near-infinite demand, this could not justify near-infinite increases in prices, especially since the demand itself was likely to be highly pro-cyclical because the Spanish economy had itself become dependent on real estate development.”
“Same old same old”, indeed.
Change the date, and a few words, and Vancouver fits like a glove.