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How I Avoided the Housing Scam

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Half million dollar house in Salinas, Californ...

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I don’t want to brag, but….actually, that is a lie: I do want to brag. The whole reason I am writing this is to brag about my highly developed bullshit detector. Hey, I do enough of putting myself down, enough self-deprecating humor; it’s okay if I want to pat myself on the back once every thirty years or so.

Back in the late ’90s-early ’00s, or whenever the genesis of the housing bubble occurred, everyone in my office was running around to meetings, mortgage companies, and banks, buying up houses and condos, excited to become homeowners. These were people who worked for non-profits, people whose salaries were livable, but low. They convinced me to go to one of these meetings to learn how I, too, might purchase my very own home.

So I went. The meeting was held in a big auditorium downtown that bustled with activity. People like me sat in the seats looking confused, while people in suits holding clipboards worked the room, handing out applications and information sheets with large-type numbers, crudely drawn graphs, and dollar signs all over them.

I shuffled through the papers, feeling somewhat uncomfortable; the longer I stayed, the more discomfort I felt. There was something about the situation that struck me as false: the suited people were upbeat to the point of mania, and exerted pressure on the rest of us to buy into what they touted as  wonderful; if it was so wonderful, why the  pressure? You know what they say: if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Now, I know nothing about real estate, loans, mortgages, high finance. I remember none of the factual details, and even at the time I couldn’t tell what the graphs and numbers all meant. It wasn’t the details that set off warning bells in my head; it was the vibe. Just that: the vibes weren’t right. Yes, I know it sounds like hippie gibberish, or magical thinking — but the upshot of it was that I left the meeting after less than an hour: the only one to leave early, the only one in my office who decided, This isn’t for me.

I don’t know what happened to those people who stayed, and I’ve lost touch with my ex-colleagues. I know that one of them has since moved out of the condo she’d bought, but I don’t know the circumstances. I’d hazard a guess that many of those at the meeting bought a house and lost it by now.

Once in awhile in analyzing the housing bubble, somebody mentions the home buyer, as in, don’t those who fell for this scam bear any responsibility for what happened to them? Because I escaped the scam, I think they do bear some blame. If I felt “the vibe” in less than an hour, how did they not see anything wrong during the months it took to close the deal? It won’t do to be too harsh on them, though: that’s just blaming the victim.

I’m no better off in terms of my living situation than I was back then, so I can’t go too overboard with my braggadocio. I only know that when a scam was dangled in front of me as opportunity, I knew it was a scam. I’m proud of my well-developed bullshit detector. I might not be better off than I was, but because of my instincts, I’m not worse off either.


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