It may be my imagination, but since the market began cooling in the middle of 2005, economists and trade groups have begun looking at real estate as "local" again.
"Looking" may not be the word I want. It is more of a recognition that real estate markets are often as small as neighborhoods or even city blocks, and trying to use a broad brush to paint conditions doesn't work.
I suppose the media has had something to do with it. It is easier to squeeze the monthly sales data for the entire nation into an NBC Nightly News sound bite or three paragraphs in an Associated Press story than it is to be more specific.
I've noticed that in the weeks since subprime loans have become a major news story, TV has been reporting a national spike in the foreclosure rate but sending their reporters to areas of Ohio that never were a part of the late lamented housing boom.
During the boom, the media outside of Ohio, Michigan and Indiana never bothered to point out why real estate didn't boom there, and most of the recent reports I've seen fail to mention it.
To tap the equity from your house for whatever use, there needs to be some to draw on. The issue, it seems, is that a lot of people in these states refinanced into adjustable mortgages with low teaser rates without being fully aware that home prices were stagnant and could fall.
Now mortgage rates are adjusting upward and beyond their ability to pay them.
I've been hearing a lot of "I told you so's" from readers and experts who have never been approving of efforts to increase the homeownership ranks that have been going full tilt since the 1990s.
Their argument: "You can't lower underwriting standards and give mortgages to people collecting welfare just because they've paid their utility bills on time for the past year."
I think that is an oversimplification of what has occurred over the last six months.
Efforts to bring more low and moderate income people into the homeownership ranks can and is being done carefully. Nonprofit credit counseling agencies and housing providers require a lot more than just proof that the applicant is breathing.
When done properly, credit-counseling is a long, careful, painstaking process that matches a family to the right house and the right mortgage.
The problem that some home buyers are facing, however, is that they believed the hype that if they didn't buy now, they would lose out, and rushed into the wrong house and wrong mortgage.
During a conference on aging I attended in Scottsdale, AZ, a few years back, one of the speakers opined that "instant gratification" was a baby-boomer trait. I sort of pooh-poohed the suggestion, since it tended to lump all boomers into a single category any demographer will tell you that they are as diverse as any other.
I've concluded, however, that it is a national malaise not limited to any generational group. All you need do is look along the sides of streets of middle-class communities on trash day and you can see the volume of waste that "instant gratification" creates.
I can appreciate the terror that someone facing foreclosure today is experiencing, because I watched my parents avoid it 42 years ago by selling our house after my father lost his job and couldn't keep up with the $110 a month mortgage payments.
In my father's case, he was a part-time real estate agent, and cleared $3,500 on the sale because he handled both sides of the transaction.
He believed that houses should not own the homeowner, yet he went ahead and bought a house without any money down, working out a 20 percent down payment with an under-the-table loan interest-free loan with the previous owners that he paid off by working in the couple's liquor store free nights and Saturdays for two years.
Working two jobs (he was balancing three part-time jobs when he lost the full-time one that paid for everything else) couldn't save him. A lot of people facing foreclosure don't even have those options.
At a Habitat for Humanity event a couple of weeks back, I talked to a mother of four and grandmother of one who was a candidate for a Habitat house. Her presence as a guide at the event was part of the 400 hours of sweat equity each Habitat candidate needs to complete before he or she can take possession.
She had been in the program since last October, and here it was March with 18 months to go.
"I don't know where the house is, but I do know that wherever it is, it will be mine," she said.
That's not instant gratification. That's "good things come to those who wait."