Moving on up

Marketplace Staff Aug 15, 2006
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Moving on up

Marketplace Staff Aug 15, 2006
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TEXT OF COMMENTARY

MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: The housing market is kind of like the stock market. What’s bad news for some is often good news for others. This week, Toll Brothers, the largest luxury homebuilder in the US, released some new information. It said a combination of rising mortgage rates and flat inventory was slowing sales of new homes. But writer and commentator David Wells points out, as demand for mortgages goes down, it might pave the way for one group to move up.


DAVID WELLS: There’s one well of customers that home builders should remember runs very deep.

That’s retirees who were middleclass in their hometown, but can be upper-middleclass in other parts of the country thanks to the paper worth trapped in their current homes.

We could rewrite the Jefferson’s theme song for these folks.

They’re not moving on up to a dee-luxe apartment in the sky a la Manhattan. And no they are not African-American millionaires with a dry cleaning business.

They’re regular middle class folks moving on up to the South and West. They’re nesting in deluxe McMansions complete with deluxe pools.

Retirees in expensive cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles are cashing out and moving to places like Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas and Austin. There, they’ve found towns with similar vibes but cheaper — at least for now — housing stock.

There’s competition when they get there. Younger people come armed with interest only or adjustable rate mortgages, or a generous gift from the grandparents, if they’re lucky. But doctors, lawyers and business owners are also in the mix, shouldering big debts or college bills.

But our pensioners don’t need a mortgage if they move. They live in a small home in San Francisco that has grown in value in ways they never imagined.

And if they’re willing to leave the neighborhood they spent 30 years living in, then they can trade their ranch house or bungalow for a super-Tuscan or sprawling mock-Tudor. They’ve saved and now they can play in 4,000-square-foot-plus houses.

Call our retirees tortoises. They took the long road to obtaining wealth. The hares of today should learn a bit from them and stop worrying about getting into a house they can’t really afford.

Home builders like the Toll Brothers made a fortune on both the hares and the tortoises of this country. But by the look of things, they better start betting on those tortoises. They’re out there and ready to move up.

THOMAS: David Wells is a deputy editor for The Financial Times newspaper. And in Los Angeles, I’m Mark Austin Thomas. Thanks for joining us. Have a great day.

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