Some really mean averages

Remember the way it was four years ago, when the real estate market was pretty much the opposite of what it is now? People were actually lining up to buy houses as they were released onto the market, taking numbers to secure their place in line as if the homes they wanted were hot pastrami sandwiches at a deli? I remember one Saturday morning when I showed up to get involved in the scrum for 15 new houses off Callahan Ranch Road. The doors opened at 10 a.m.; I got there at 10:30 and was number 165. 165!!! Meaning 150 applicants would have to have bad credit for me to get a house. And back then, who had bad credit? Nobody. Bridge trolls qualified for $450,000 houses with no down payment, for God’s sake.

It was a strange time. And one of the really bizarre things about it was that lots of folks began to assume that this was a new reality that was going to hold for a while. For years, even. We were all gonna get rich, or at least real comfortable. All you had to do was buy a couple of houses, hold on to them for two, maybe three years, sell them for a 50 to 100 percent profit, and get ready to retire.

It was fun while it lasted. Wonder if it will ever be like that again?

It seems that a similar situation exists as concerns the water of The West. I just read where the Scripps Institute, a fairly respectable oceanographic group, put the odds at 50-50 that Lake Mead will be a big icky puddle by the year 2020. The two main reasons for this would be (1) global warming, and (2) the overall climate of the West is just settling back into its natural groove. Which is, unfortunately for us locals, a considerably drier and dustier groove than we’d like to think.

At a recent scientific forum that brought together a lot of people who are pretty smart, a few dendrologists unleashed their new report about rainfall and snowpacks over the last thousand years in western North America. What they found in their examination of various trees and rings was that the 20th century was pretty darn wet, that the 150 years or so of data that we’ve used to determine what might be “the norm” for rain and snow out here, well, that span of time is very likely skewed real good toward the wet side. Which means our idea of what is “average” in terms of annual precipitation could be approximately as screwed up as somebody’s idea of what was the “average” home price back in 2004. We’re trying to make our averages using numbers that are anything but.

Bottom line: Next time there’s a weird mutant spike in some cycle, don’t walk around with your pants around your ankles.

And good luck to anybody building a ski resort in 2032.