Monday, May 12, 2008

Parade of Envy

I have mixed feelings about Tallahassee's annual Parade of Homes.

I'm all for dreaming big, and I love looking inside certain kinds of houses. There's something about good craftsmanship and architectural detail that makes me happy. And while I consider myself a realist, I think it's fine to admire things that are out of your range and say, "I'd like to have this some day." Gives you something to shoot for.

But the flip side of that is, well, reality. And the reality is that Tallahassee isn't known for its plethora of high-paying jobs. Yet, home prices here are high considering the city's size and its isolation from other major cities in the state. They're dirt cheap compared to what my friends in D.C. are paying — but this isn't D.C.

Combine those facts with the current economy, and I can't help but wonder what the people behind this event are smoking. While flipping through the glossy PoH guide, I saw plenty of lovely if unspectacular homes — the kind that evoke images of a normal, middle-class family with two kids and a dog. Except those "normal" homes were, in my opinion, outrageously priced for this market. Houses like this one are typical. I know people who could swing it, but it's a stretch to call them middle-class. They're affluent. (Again, I apologize to big-city friends who are fainting with envy. I realize you couldn't buy a closet for these prices where you live. But you get better concerts.)

I could see if this were a destination for young (and not-so-young) professionals NOT connected with government, but it isn't. Tallahassee is full of people who are educated up the wazoo but who aren't making the money they would in Atlanta or even Jacksonville. For years, the attitude was that those people could pack their shit and move to Atlanta or Jacksonville if they didn't like it — but there is a growing realization that an ongoing exodus of youngish professionals is bad for the city in the long run. Stemming that tide will require the creation of higher-paying jobs, so that hardworking people can see themselves owning a nice house one day. Tallahassee is a gorgeous city compared to the rest of Florida, but it'll take more than trees.

So the question remains: Who's buying these houses? And what is the point of showcasing homes that are out of the reach of so many people? I count myself as someone who benefitted (at least on paper) from the housing bubble, so I can't imagine how hopeless this must look to someone who hasn't even gotten into the game. Even the "affordable" houses are more than we paid eight years ago.

I'm skipping the Parade this year, unless my numbers hit.


Sghoul said...

Much like our overpriced (and thus far under used) downtown condos, I think the people buying these things are investors. Investments they will eventually lose methinks.

Also, keep in mind that there are MANY people living past their means and it will catch up to them. This is why so many people are losing their homes.

As for highing paying jobs, nothing personal but "educated" means jack shit to me. I know way too many people with degrees that are useless individuals. I think you may work with/for some of them...

EDP said...

Those condos are, as we like to say, retarded. We do not have a lively enough downtown to attract urban hipsters. And you're right about people living past their means — a product of our Keeping Up with the Jonses culture. And as for those "educated" folks, I know you're not talking about ME, so no offense taken. :-)

downtown guy said...

Howdy. I'm bored and surfing and ran across your blog. I have to say, I agree completely. I suspect, though, that some of these particularly overpriced areas (Southwood, I'm looking at you) will be the low rent neighborhoods in 20 or 30 years' time. All those houses developers slapped together to make big cash in the rising market will start to fall apart. I can't even imagine what all those downtown condos will be used for (I can't help but note that I'm paying $370 a month in rent less than 6 blocks north of the Tennyson condos).

EDP said...

Hi, downtown guy — thanks for reading! I think you make an excellent point about Southwood and the downtown condos. I can see the condos from my office, and I don't get it. If Tallahassee had a bustling, after-hours downtown, it would make sense. But ... it kinda doesn't.

downtown guy said...

Exactly. I mean, at least where I live I can walk to Decent Pizza, Bamboo House, Leon Pub, that sort of thing. But those aren't exactly the upscale downtown crowd type hangouts.

H F said...

Have you seen the commercial from a few years back when the guy is talking about how he has a great new car, lives in a beautiful home in a great school district, sends his kids to private school, etc....and then says, "I'm in debt up to my eyeballs! Somebody help me!" I'd rather have a modest house and economical car but not have to worry about debt.