Newspaper, Bubble Blogs Feed the Real Estate Obsession

    by Mark Glaser
    November 29, 2006

    Have you ever gone to an open house even though you weren’t interested in buying the property? Have you ever pored over housing price data on Zillow or read through housing ads on Craigslist just for fun? You are not alone. There seems to be a growing obsession with real estate in the U.S., as home prices have soared in the past few years, only to come back to earth a bit in the past year.

    But during that boom — and the current correction/bust — blogs of all stripes have sprung up to feed the need for instant real estate information, photos of noteworthy homes for sale, and the off-color stories related to city living. While some newspaper sites have had some recent success with real estate blogs, independent bloggers who have called the boom a speculative bubble — a.k.a. the bubble bloggers — have found a rabid audience for their bearish views.

    “Bloggers have moved into bubble coverage because the media hasn’t done a very good job of covering the reality, and reporters are more conventional and look for the story of the hour and what the statistics are,” said Carol Lloyd, who writes the must-read Surreal Estate online column about the San Francisco Bay Area market. “And some of the statistics are produced by the NAR [National Association of Realtors], and they look like they’re just covering the industry for the industry.”


    Lloyd wrote a fantastic primer on bubble bloggers, who she says “have become the sages of the day.” Matt Carter, a reporter (and blogger) for the real estate trade site InmanNews, says the bubble bloggers’ popularity can be traced to a bad case of schadenfreude among some in the public.

    “The bubble blogs feed the intense desire many people have — including those who got burned investing in real estate, and first-time home buyers who feel they’ve been priced out of the market — to see housing prices crash,” Carter told me via email. “As was the case during the dot-com bust, people who got left behind want those who were riding high during the boom years to feel their pain.”

    i-a02f429445a982c4ad52c974863d3b8d-Ben Jones.JPEG


    The three prominent bubble bloggers I contacted — Rich Toscano at Professor Piggington’s, Ben Jones (pictured here) at Housing Bubble Blog, and Patrick Killelea at Patrick.net — haven’t quit their day jobs yet for blogging. But in all three cases, they have built loyal audiences and have made decent money from Google ads, donations and, in the case of Patrick.net, paid subscriptions ($5/month) for housing crash news.

    One of the strongest aspects of these blogs is the online community of readers that sprouts up around the subject of real estate. At the Housing Bubble Blog, Jones regularly asks his readers to contribute “Craigslist finds” (listings of interest), and often gets more than 100 comments on each blog post. And Killelea (pictured below) regularly polls his readers at Patrick.net, and even had a Photoshop contest recently.

    i-272d8dc8878570b6b117cdf3393b7ea6-Patrick Killelea.JPG

    One of the ironies of the bubble blogs is that some of the money they make is from Google ads for realtors or mortgage brokers who want to sell, sell, sell! In other words, while the bubble bloggers are warning people against buying properties, their ads are promoting buying properties. The irony was not lost on Toscano, who said only a “very small proportion” of visitors actually clicked on the ads.

    “If people want to click through and see what’s being offered, that’s cool by me — my intent is not to get the reader to do this or that, but to provide him with information that will help him make good decisions,” Toscano said via email. “It surprises me a bit, but I guess a lot of people who visit the site are seeking information, and perhaps those ads offer info about what is out there in the mortgage world and so forth.”

    Newspaper Blogs as Moderate Voices

    Toscano, who is a securities broker in his day job, is one of the more astute observers of the economics of the housing market, sprinkling his blog with a heavy dose of charts and graphs. His latest finding was that the real cause of the last slowdown in real estate in his hometown area of San Diego in the early ’90s was not from unemployment or interest rates, but was the inevitable result of the speculative bubble that preceded it.

    i-134332b414a768e0e22f65c22e9dd653-Rich Toscano.jpg

    Toscano (pictured here) dings mainstream real estate reporters for relying on expert quotes from analysts who are in bed with the real estate industry — meaning, the quotes are likely to give a positive spin to any negative news. “The other [problem] is that they tend to mirror conventional thought and to shy away from contrarian or non-mainstream analysis, regardless of merit,” he said. “As one example of this phenomenon: Despite the fact that we had been in an obvious speculative bubble for a long time, the media didn’t seriously address the possibility of a bubble until AFTER the housing market had slowed down substantially.”

    But Inman’s Carter gives the counterpunch to bubble bloggers for also being one-sided in their viewpoint.

    “These sites are guilty of the same sin they accuse the real estate industry of: presenting only one side of the story,” Carter said. “They highlight the most dismal news from the most stressed markets — that foreclosures are up, inventories are rising, and prices falling — without providing any context. A lot of these blogs would have you believe that all of the runup in prices was artificial, fueled by speculation and the easy availability of credit. The fact is, housing prices remain stable or continue to appreciate in areas where jobs are plentiful and housing is scarce. There are sound fundamentals in some markets, but you would never know it from reading the bubble blogs.”

    Perhaps that’s an opportunity for newspaper bloggers, who can balance the bears in blogging with the bulls in industry. Many newspaper reporters and columnists that cover real estate are now becoming bloggers themselves — and they’re trying not to take sides in the bubble debate. Newspapers have been super-sizing their online real estate coverage as interest has grown. In fact, newspapers’ print real estate ad revenues were one of the bright spots on a recent economic report from the Newspaper Association of America. Print real estate classifieds were up 10.5% in the third quarter, while all classified ads in print were down 3%.

    The Orange County (Calif.) Register and Palm Beach (Fla.) Post have had success with real estate blogs focused on their communities, while the New York Times actually shuttered its real estate blog because it had too much of a national focus. Jon Glass, the Palm Beach Post’s online editorial director, told me their group real estate blog, The Real Deal, was consistently in the top three or five blogs in traffic out of the site’s 30 blogs.

    “We launched [the blog] in May of this year, and the inspiration was our market,” Glass told me. “Palm Beach County remained a hot market longer than the rest of the market. Come about May it finally caught up to us. We wanted to provide an outlet to talk about real estate in our community…The blog took off immediately, you can tell by the number of comments and strength of the threads. We wish we had started it months before or the year before.”

    I asked Glass if the mainstream media was guilty of not predicting the bust ahead of time — similar to accusations that the media had ignored warning signs around the dot-com bust — but he deflected blame. “We covered the real estate market with an ongoing series called ‘The Housing Boom,’ which shifted at some point this year to ‘The Housing Squeeze,’” he said. “I correlate this with patterns of housing costs and values in our market. The story went from how people were making beaucoup bucks to how people couldn’t afford to live here.”

    i-d68aa56a78a5897f2cf0bf5d2ce955d0-Jon Lansner.jpg

    At the Orange County Register, columnist Jon Lansner’s real estate blog, launched this past February, has been the No. 1 blog on the site in traffic “by about four-fold,” according to Lansner (pictured here). He explained the natural attraction people have toward real estate stories and how he’s trying to differentiate himself from the bubble bloggers with a moderate bent:

    Let’s face it. Real estate has a natural hook. For many folks, it’s their most valuable asset!…Blogging probably works with this topic because there’s a grand bubble debate — crash coming or not. My blog features hearty arguments supporting and deconstruction of both sides of the argument. That creates an amusing forum that those who just care to watch — the so-called ‘lurkers’ — seem to enjoy.

    The most energetic real estate bloggers are decidedly bearish in their outlook. They feel traditional media outlets are too pro-real estate — something I think they’re wrong about — so [readers] flock to ‘bubble’ sites where they can rant in unison.

    But what will happen if the market does crash and boom again, or whether it’s just a slow poofing souffle? Will people still be enamored with every economic report coming out of Northern Iowa or a suburb of Phoenix? Or does the universality of everyone having a home — whether rental or as an owner or landlord — mean this topic will be fresh for years to come? Perhaps online aggregators that sum up real estate news from all sides, from bear to bull, will be the most valued in the future. Time will tell.

    Here’s a smattering of recommended real estate blogs to check out:

    Billings (Montana) Housing Market

    Bubble Meter

    Carnival of Real Estate


    David Lereah Watch

    Flipper Nation podcast

    Future of Real Estate Marketing

    House Falls

    Housing Doom

    Housing Panic

    Inman Blog

    Lansner on Real Estate

    Miller Samuel’s Matrix

    New Jersey Real Estate Report


    Professor Piggington’s Econo-Almanac for the Landed Poor

    The Real Deal from the Palm Beach Post

    The Real Estate Bloggers



    What do you think? Which blogs or websites do you use to follow real estate news? Share your thoughts in the comments below, and I’ll update the list with any missing important sources.

    UPDATE: I received an interesting email from Doug Armknecht, who was inspired by The Housing Bubble Blog to create his own web page with statistics and analysis for the Billings, Montana, housing market. He also created an informative 20-minute mini-documentary that you can watch on Google Video about the Billings market. It’s another example of an independent citizen countering the relentless positive spin of the real estate industry with some real research. Here’s what Armknecht told me:

    When I hear friends talking about housing or talking about buying, I refer them to my page just so they will have all the facts and be able to approach the market with more information. If in fact real estate is in danger of a bust, then a lot of first-time homebuyers could get burned. And who can they ask about the market, except for realtors who are happy to say, ‘It’s a great time to buy’? My site provides an alternative.

    It is my hope that more people will do this type of thing in their local areas, especially smaller cities. The housing market is very important and affects so many people. The best we get from the Billings Gazette is a puff piece, No Bubble in Billings with realtor optimism and no analysis of current trends…So far my video’s created a bit of a stir with the realtors around town. Several e-mailed me to say that I’d nailed the market that they were seeing. A local TV station is doing a story on it next month. And I will continue to analyze this market and produce updated videos as long as I feel that media and the realtors are not telling the whole truth about the market.

    By the way, I looked at newspaper articles right before the 1986 crash here in Billings. Headlines screamed “BUYER’S MARKET” and one realtor said, “The days of boom and bust are over.” I think history may repeat itself.

    UPDATE 2: Finally, we hear from someone on the realtor side of the equation, who retaliates against the strong rhetoric from the bubble bloggers. Jonathan Dalton, a realtor/blogger in the Phoenix area, breaks down in a rather tongue-in-cheek fashion what he’s learned from bubble bloggers. His conclusion:

    There are some in the bubble community who actually are capable of presenting logical arguments and add to the general real estate arguments. I’ve enjoyed conversations with more than one as at least these are the folks who take the time to read the other side of the debate, even if they don’t agree.

    There are others so busy basking in their blog-generated fame that they forget their irrelevance to the industry as a whole and would rather blame real-estate agents for everything up to and including acid rain. They lack the sense to know the difference between a realtor and a lender, for example, and rant rather than educate their disciples. And should they turn out to be wrong? What will happen to those who blindly followed them? Frankly, my dear, I doubt any of them will give a damn.

    Tagged: newspapers real estate weblog
    • Arena

      Real Estate issues aren’t always professionally covered in a main media — that’s a fact. Using any alternate resources for extra data is the only way to make intelligent decisions. Lately I’ve been using HomeInfoMax – it’s not free, but the data is reliable and affordable. You can find them at: http://www.homeinfomax.com – their coverage area extends through all 50 states and most counties.

    • For those interested in debating the bubble in the New Jersey or the NY Metro area, I’ll offer my own site up:


    • If you have trouble with the above link:


    • ChillintheOC

      The RE blogs took off because the quality (or lack of quality) of traditional mainstream media reporting was so bad. Even to this day, the National Assoc. of Realtors(NAR)is heavily quoted and highlighted in the media despite being completely biased in their opinions, predictions, and presentation of data.

    • Andy

      Anyone who is considering such a big financial decision should research all the facts. Unfortunately, the “facts” that have been made available to the public are the ones that have been released by National Association of Realtors and the like. Because of this, we see tainted information that puts a positive spin on any and all data that is released.

      The blogs were a natural consequence of ease of information transfer (internet) and lack of truthful information. Luckily, the blogs are catching on and are helping people avoid potentially bankrupting decisions.

      Who are you going to trust, a person who is paid on commission telling you to “buy now or be priced out forever”, and telling you to take a toxic interest-only loan, or are you going to trust a community of people, sharing their views about what is really going on?

    • anon

      is my favorite for Inland Empire section of So Cal.

    • Socal Bubble has been around since April 2005. One of the older blogs… not as frequented as many, but solid nonetheless.

      John Doe

    • Cal

      I consider myself a moderate “bubble head” as we are known in the vernacular of the real estate world. There are real (or maybe from a NAR point of view, perceived) issues with the housing market, can’t one express these concerns without being accused of schadenfreude? I HOPE I am wrong about my views because all that means is my down payment has sat for a few more years and grown bigger due to interest while I am “throwing my money away” “paying someone elses mortgage”. Because going through a housing recession and/or economic recession holds no joy for me.

      The people being hurt now by the housing bubble are just that, people and I never forget that. And so it is with a recession/correction, these are real people losing their homes and being hurt very badly financially, and this isn’t something anyone wishes for. But I don’t wish to join them either.

      But for me personally, the downside for buying and being wrong is much greater than sitting on the sidelines (paying half in rent what it would take to buy an equivalent place here in California even with the mythical “tax break”) and being wrong. My life isn’t “on hold” because I don’t own my home, I am not defined by my house. Two or three years from now when I stick my head up to see how things are going in the market my savings will be bigger, my downpayment will at the very least keep pace with the market, my 401k will be fully funded, and I’ll have had several very nice vacations. If I’m wrong I have zero regrets.

      My personal view is that we will have many years (5-10) of stagnation, slowing sales and a middling median. I can watch the volume of sales as an indicator (since the median, in general, is useless in a dynamic market) as well as inventory, foreclosures, interest rates (not scary to me if they rise, it hurts sellers more than buyers in the current enviroment if they rise), housing starts, and just the general health of the local economy. Data will guide my decision when I look again in a few years.

    • Tom

      There are many other weblogs that cover housing that take the middle of the road. Even though the bubbly blogs are in the limelight, one day the market will turn and where will they be?

      Try The Real Estate Bloggers or Sellsius .

    • If that obscure Phoenix suburb you alluded to in the last paragraph happened to be Gilbert, we’ve got you covered at http://housingdoom.com/ . Actually, Doom’s founder, Debi Averett, keeps a close eye on the local Phoenix market, while my beat extends to all of reality and beyond (tomorrow’s first post will be about Anshe Chung, RE’s first imaginary millionaire). Hope you’ve got the time to drop by sometime :)

    • liana

      I have learned a lot from reading bubble blogs.
      I learned about the ins and outs and problems with interest only and adjustable rate mortgages.
      I learned about the power that real estate agents have by refusing access to Multiple Listing Services to the general public.
      I found out how housing statistics are manipulated.
      I found out just how many house purchases in my area are for investment (30%).
      I realized that real estate agents, because they are paid commissions, are incentived to encourage me, as a buyer, to buy even if it is not in my best interest, and to pay as much as possible. As well as the fact that they have almost no training and have no real standards that they can be held accountable to.
      I learned about the coming problem of adjustable ARMs resetting, and just how many people are affected.
      I learned all about bubbles in other areas, such as the UK and Australia as well as details of the past crash in Japan.
      I learned a lot more than I was learning from real estate agents and mortgage brokers whose only interest was in getting me to part with my money, and the MSM seems to be filled with so many “advertising features” that it is impossible to find impartial news.

    • Schadenfreude is exactly what is happening with the bubblistas. It is in especially poor taste when the McAgents are trying to caplitalize using it.

    • mike d.

      i have been a rabid reader of several of the bubble blogs listed for at least six months now, and would have been reading them longer had i known they existed.

      i live in los angeles and have long known that we were in the middle of a massive residential real estate bubble, and really was bothered by the lack of what i considered any stories in the mainstream media (especially in the la times RE section) that questioned the fundamentals behind the huge price gains that had been happening. it seemed like the reporters really didn’t understand any of the economics behind the runup, and were content to get a few quotes from a NAR or CAR about how you should buy now before conditions become less favorable (have they ever said anything to the contrary? it’s always a great time for a realtor to get a commission) and leave it at that. no real talk of the lending environment or explanation of how the boom was sustainable in spite of dwindling affordability. and no real critical analysis of the statements by NAR and CAR.

      so it was refreshing to find these blogs and see some real research done by people whose livelihood was not dependent upon houses being sold and values being propped up. people that would actually explore the fundamentals in the market and see if the recent price appreciation made any sense when compared against economic fundamentals.

      i think that the blogs will be less popular as this all plays out, and when prices have been down or stagnant long enough everyone will just be sick or real estate and not want to hear anymore about it. but right now, especially in socal, everyone seems to be obessed w/ real estate and home values.

    • Required
    • Hey, you missed us off your list, the no1 unbiased real estate forum and website, pay us a visit anytime for all the latest up to date news around the world

    • For those new to and interested in the developing US housing futures and options markets, have a look at Housing Derivatives.typepad.com. No editorials, just looking at publically available data that would affect and influence a trading view in futures housing prices.

    • I have we following and tracking the housing bubble in america and elsewhere for the last 5 years, And I came to the conlusion that it was just one of the biggest speculative bubble in mankind history which is going to cause a world crash. The 1st one having taken place 650 years ago.

      Once again history is about to repeat itself.

    • For those new to and interested in the developing US housing futures and options markets, have a look at HousingDerivatives.typepad.com. No editorials, just looking at publically available data and specific commodity market information that would affect and influence a trading view in futures housing prices.

      The Chicago Mercantile Exchange has 10 cities listed: BOS, CHI, DEN, LV, LA, MIA, NY, SD, SF, WDC.

      Housing futures are transparent and shows where professional money is pricing US Housing one year forward.

    • I have we following and tracking the housing bubble in america and elsewhere for the last 5 years, And I came to the conlusion that it was just one of the biggest speculative bubbles in mankind history which is going to cause a world crash. The 1st one having taken place 650 years ago.

      Once again history is about to repeat itself.

    • I have we following and tracking the housing bubble in america and elsewhere for the last 5 years, And I came to the conlusion that it was just one of the biggest speculative bubbles in mankind history which is going to cause a world crash. The 1st one having taken place 650 years ago.

      Once again history is about to repeat itself.

    • ConcernedInCA

      I’ve been reading the articles about how good the market is from the NAR and NAHB for quite some time now.

      It seems that they are only concerned with sales and selling. (They’re not very concerned about us buyers.)

      Anyone who has read any article, looked at any stats, been to any open house can tell you how bad the market is right now. I’m here in Southern California, and let me tell you – things are particularly bad here.

      Either way, as a consumer – it feels like they’re trying to manipulate us into buying. (From what I read, I believe the nahb on their homepage tells people now is a good time to buy.)

      That’s why I love the blogs. They seem to be the only source of information that is somewhat accurate. Of course it’s passionate – but that’s what makes them good.

      You asked for sites we go to that you may have missed. I use the one’s you’ve listed – but I also go to http://www.housefalls.com. It’s a pretty good blog that lists recent articles throughout the day and leaves comments on them – which I find to be entertaining. (In fact, that’s what brought me to your site.)

    • Malcolm

      This reminds me of some breaking large story with few new details so to fill time the media starts reporting on how it is reporting the story. Instead of actually analyzing the real estate situation PBS would rather analyze the messengers.

      I have been a loyal reader of Patrick.net. Not because I had an agenda, been priced out of the market, or hated seeing people make a lot of money. Contrary to this, I was one of those who made a ton of money in real estate. The fundamentals made absolutely no sense when people purchased my homes with monthly payments of 3 times what I was paying, and 2 times what they could have just rented the house from me for.

      The media is just protecting its turf. Somehow a dolled up reporter working for a major media outlet is more of an expert in real estate than some guy in San Francisco who recognized the same disconnect in the fundamentals as a hobby and then spent time observing the real estate environment and simply posted his OPINION. The most frustrating part which is why people turned to the blogs is because you would just hear the same quotes over and over again from the same ‘experts.’ The amusing thing is that now some of the experts have started blaming the media, and the bloggers for creating the crash, and yes it is a crash in progress. They can’t even refute the fundamentals without contradicting themselves. The Power Point presentation from NAR is hysterical. In one slide it shows how at the same point in time the NAR was saying things were great, the slide says it was unsustainable. In another slide it says, consumers need to buy now or they may miss an opportunity if rates go up, yet another slide shows the effects on demand if rates go up. The media just keeps quoting these clowns the same way they quote Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson when they do a story on racial issues. The internet is a shift in a paradaigm, equalizing the opinion of the man on the street, with that of Dan Rather.

    • Colin Townsend

      The Rat and Mouse, London (UK)’s very popular real estate blog. A bit of an institution.

    • Anna

      What about SocketSite in SF? One of the few sites that actually seems to get “Real Estate”. I love Curbed, but outside of NYC their real estate coverage is disappointing (to say the least).

    • Try

      Find urban gymnastics, signs of blogoholism, conversations with Craig Newmark & that zillow dude David G, see who the top women RE bloggers are, take a 101 Blog Post challenge, take a quiz or discover how to mine an “unzillowable”. All this and more for your real estate dining and dancing pleasure.

      We’d serve you coffee if we could get it through the screen.

    • How about some blogs from the Ground Zero of the housing bubble: California’s Central Valley?

      Bakersfield Bubble
      Flippers in Trouble
      Modesto & Merced Going Quickly
      Sacramento Land(ing)
      Sacramento Real Estate Statistics

    • I am entirely in agreement with Malcolm. We are in a paradigm shift and mainstream media had better recognise and embrace the change otherwise they will go the way of the dinosaur. I also read blogs and I have to say that a lot of the commentators show a better grasp of economic principles and issues than Wall Street big names and analysts. It seems to me that the Berlin Wall of media smugness and arrogance is about to be pulled down by citizen journalists and I for one will not be shedding a tear.

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    • As well as the fact that they have almost no training and have no real standards that they can be held accountable to.

    • Real Estate is becoming more of a national obsession as prices reach their all time high. It is the most valuable asset most people will ever have. Also I think the obsession with real estate in the United States is leading to the price increases with the enormous growth of investment property ownership.
      I find myself going to open houses all the time. I love it. I am one of those constant movers though. I cant spend more than a year or two in the same house. Keep up the real estate craze.

    • I suspect that’s thereason general public want to read blog….Internet visitors generally create blogs to declare themselves or their secret views. Blog grant them same matter on the monitor screen what they specifically needed,so as the above stuffs declared it.

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    • Bud

      “The fact is, housing prices remain stable or continue to appreciate in areas where jobs are plentiful and housing is scarce.”

      Cool. I’ll bet a lot of people would like to hear about just where those places are. Both of them. :)

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