Thursday, August 17, 2006

L.A.'s Crazy Real Estate Market Goes Reality TV

Bravo's been heavily hyping its new show "Million Dollar Listing" (produced by the fine folks at World of Wonder) as a real-life soap opera set in the "high stakes, cut-throat world of real estate and closing the deal" in Los Angeles.

From WOW's description:
It's the personal dramas, the insanity of it's quirky cast and the insider tips aspiring homeowners and home buyers will learn that will keep viewers glued to the television each and every week.

The episodes are hour-long, self-contained stories that resolve every week with the sale of a single home. We'll see the intense work an agent puts into moving the hot listing of the week, along with the mental, physical and comical juggling acts required to keep their personal lives afloat. The drama heats up as homeowners and potential buyers lose their minds and possibly their shirts as they handle the pressure of one of the largest and most emotional transactions of their lives. It's real estate at the speed of television.

That's all fine, but I have a quibble with the show's title. "Million Dollar Listing"? Sad to say, but that's a three bedroom, two bath in Studio City. If this show really is about the expensive real estate in hot spots like Malibu, the title ought to be "Ten Million Dollar Listing."

Meanwhile, TLC's "Property Ladder" is actually representing the current reality of Los Angeles' softening real estate market, almost in real time.

The show, set in Los Angeles, focuses on first-time home flippers. They're usually way over their heads, spend much more money than they expect and are forced to scale back from their original grand ideas. (Host Kristen Kemp does a great job giving the flippers a reality check, complete with raised eyebrow and condescending disapproval.)

Still, Los Angeles being Los Angeles, even the most inept flippers still managed to score at least $100,000 in profit, as buyers seemed readily available... until "Property Ladder's" latest batch of shows.

My, how things have changed. The first-time home flippers are still inept, are still spending over their budget and are still having to scale things back. But when it comes time to put the house on the market, they're waiting... and waiting. Some have still managed to sell, after taking a price cut, but I've seen at least two episodes in which the show had to wrap things up without a sale. Keep in mind these episodes were taped in April, so things are even worse now.

Yikes. Even before the stalled market, "Property Ladder" served as a wake-up call to anyone who has ever thought about flipping a house for fun and profit. It was never fun, but at least the profit was there. Not anymore. The age of the flipper has come to a close.

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