If I didn't know better, I'd think that someone at the P-I was reading Seattle Bubble. That's the feeling I get after reading this opinion column by Mark Trahant, titled Age-old, old-age question: Are we unique? (Links added to back up his numbers.)
You've probably heard something like this before: "Every child is unique and special."It is both shocking and refreshing to finally be reading this kind of thing in the local papers. A year ago you would have never found an opinion piece like this in your daily dead-tree rag. Listen, I love this area, but to think that we'll chug along just fine while housing and the general economy in the rest of the country falters is just a bit too rose-tinted for me. I don't want bad things to happen, but it seems that they are all but inevitable at this point, and shouldn't people be warned?
It is a refrain many kids hear repeatedly while growing up. We all have something to contribute to this world, something that only we can add to the mix. This notion is fundamental to the American character, the essence of our individual-based society.
The Lake Wobegon effect is when everybody considers that they are the ones who are above average. (Below average? Well, that's somebody else.)
But everyone can't be that good, that smart or that rich.
It's the same for a city's personality. It's just as easy to think of Seattle as special; defying the trends ahead. Our regional narrative continues to insist that we remain a red-hot real estate market, ignoring the cautionary data. The rest of the country might be experiencing a pop in the housing bubble, but the "we're different" idea suits our perception of ourselves.
I would suggest Seattle is riding its wave, too. The real estate numbers reflect the swell in the tsunami ahead: In King County we keep building (a 43 percent increase in housing permits), while home resales are shrinking (down 13.7 percent from a year ago). Our inventory of available homes is huge as we shift into an era when no one wants to be the last person to buy a home at its most expensive price.
On top of that, Seattle is a place where mortgage magic tricks have made the out-of-reach home at least seem affordable.
Unsustainable? Remember, that's somebody else's problem. And one reason why the national savings rate grew to a negative $83.5 billion in July, compared with a negative $67.6 billion a month before.
We're no different in Seattle.
(Mark Trahant, Seattle P-I, 09.03.2006)