Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Upscale Ghettos

What you pay for, to live in a "good neighborhood" is to not live next door to this.

I wrote before about how in Florida, in the mid 2000's, housing prices were ridiculous.  We looked at a house on a canal that was a basic 3 bedroom, two-bath ranch home, and they wanted $850,000 for it.   The property taxes were a staggering $12,000 a year.

A gated, exclusive community of upscale homes?  Hardly.  Across the street was a guy who collected derelict late 1980's Mustangs, and had several on his lawn, a garage full of crap, and garbage on his driveway.

And much of South Florida is this way - trashy.   But this effect can be seen in a lot of places across this country, particularly as housing prices drop, and mini-mansions are rented out.  Many upscale developments, such as in Woodbridge, Virginia, are turning into Suburban Ghettos.

I saw this firsthand at a home a few miles away.  We went to look at a vintage airstream travel trailer that someone was offering for sale.  They had it, and jet skiis and a lot of CRAP, scattered all over their lawn.  The home, once an expensive "upscale" house, had fallen into disrepair.

We drove around the neighborhood, fascinated.  Some of the homes had beautiful marsh views.  They were large homes and fairly well appointed - far nicer than my own. But many of them had abandoned cars in the driveway, or on the lawn, (or abandoned RVs, boats, etc.) and some had even rotted furniture and junk piled in the driveway - that had clearly been there for several months, if not years.

While the developer may have intended the development to be an upscale retreat for retired middle-class northerners, the local trash decided to move in, instead.  And, just like Florida, they wasted no time in trashing the place, good.  As a result, the sales prices for these homes were far less than the prices for older, smaller homes here on the island.

Which illustrates why they say the three most important things in Real Estate are, Location, Location, and Location.  You can fix a broken window.  You can remodel a house.  You can't fix trashy neighbors, bad schools, and high crime rates.

What makes people trash perfectly good neighborhoods?  It is hard to say.   Like the cardboard box in the front hall (whoops!  I have two now, let me go move those) stuff tends to accumulate, and people fail to "see" it.  So that pile of scrap lumber in the driveway mysteriously vanishes from their eyes (but not the neighbors') in short order.  And this "vanishing effect" is more pronounced in the lower classes, I think, as well as people prone to alcohol and drug abuse.

I felt sorry for the people who paid $400,000 or more to live in this neighborhood.  You could tell which houses those were - the ones with the neatly manicured lawns and no shit on the driveway.  But those were the minority of homes.  The development had reached that tipping point, where the "white trash" outnumbered real human beings by 2 to 1.  Most of the houses were little more than pigsties, with human animals living in them, eating out of troughs and watching cable TeeVee all day long.

And I think this will be a disturbing trend in the near future.  A lot of these "upscale" developments that are now in foreclosure, are going to be priced so low (or rented out) and attract pretty rough customers.  You will see these places devolving into suburban ghettos in short order.  And since many of these mini-mansions were built of cheap stucco or dry-vit, they will fall apart in short order, as their new tenants will be more concerned about customizing their Harley than in preventing water ingress and toxic mold.

We built all these "upscale" homes during the 2000's, but there are not that many "upscale" Americans to live in them.  In fact, most Americans seem to crave the downscale lifestyle.  Ignorance is Strength.

Granted, no matter where you live, you are going to run into folks like this.   We bought our house in Virginia without realizing the house across the street was abandoned.  But in most cases, houses like that are few and far between - one or two per development.  But when the Hillbillies take over the place, well, it pretty much is the death knell for property values.

To prevent this effect, a lot of folks buy in communities with homeowner's associations.  And such associations have strict rules on the appearance of a home.  And like clockwork, you meet people who live in such places who whine and bitch about how the "Nazi" homeowner's association is being unreasonable by not letting them keep their grass in a foot-high state, or park an abandoned Winnebago in the side yard.

But cut to the chase - if you bought a home in such a development, you knew the rules before you moved in, and have no reason to complain.   Moreover, keeping your house in a state of obnoxious disrepair is just not being a good neighbor.  What is the point of not mowing your lawn or keeping a collection of junked cars on the lawn?   Such people are douche-bags, first class.

And yet, the media will run "humorous" stories about them and their valiant fights against "Nazi" homeowner's associations.  One Virginia paper ran such a story, about a homeowner who was "fighting" for his right to grow his grass knee-high.  They report breathlessly about how all his neighbors are "assholes" for complaining about it to the County. But who, really, is the asshole?

I am not saying you need to manicure your lawn with a nail clipper.  My own home hardly falls into that "manicured" category.   But then again, I feel weird even leaving a car parked in the driveway, much less an abandoned jet ski.

Oh, and the Airstream we went to look at?  An utterly clapped-out piece of junk.   Yet the ad said it was in good shape and needed little work.   It was ready for a complete overhaul, or to be junked and sold for scrap.   But the owner couldn't tell the difference.  Hillbillies.  Trash. And that is nothing to be proud of, all this bullshit "redneck pride" notwithstanding.