Stones, bones and a footnote

Stones–milestones, that is

  • This appears to be the 1,000th post in this blog. Not “post #1000”–for various reasons, if I was still using post numbers, it would be higher than that. The celebration of this milestone–which, if I was still blogging at the frequency I originally anticipated, would be about six years away–will be muted.
  • Cites & Insights reached a milestone this year–twice. The milestone? Two million words. How twice? The raw word count, including the masthead, “Inside this issue,” and repeated material from previous issues, passed two million words in the January 2009 issue. The refined word count–excluding repeated material longer than (roughly) a paragraph and excluding mastheads, banners and “Inside this issue”–passed two million words in April 2009. (The publication also passed 2,500 pages in January 2009. Word and page counts exclude annual indices and the phantom COAP issue.) You’ll see more about that, overall readership, and the most widely-read essays for the period 2004-2009 in the May issue. (Yes, there will be a May issue, probably in a week or so, despite the continuing upheaval. Most of the issue will be “free books”–in one sense at least.)


The “bones” of houses, in this case–that is, structural integrity, pest control, proper maintenance. We’ve learned a few things about appreciation for “good bones” and about just how local today’s odd real estate market really is.

(The distinction here is between remodeling and obvious visual “improvements” vs. things like cracks in the eaves, termite damage, apparent standing water…the kinds of things a good home inspector and pest inspector will find.)

Our house has great bones–we’ve always kept it in good shape, even though the kitchen still has the original (1950s) tile. That was critical for two of the offers we got, including the one we accepted. We finally asked why they’d chosen ours over the one nearby that’s roughly the same price but freshly remodeled. The answer boiled down to bones–turns out the remodeled house showed significant problems in the inspection. (And, as is frequently the case, the owners planned to remodel anyway, so remodeling wasn’t a big selling point.)

The house we’re buying–and yes, we did get the house–also has great bones. We spent two hours yesterday walking through it with a home inspector (the right kind of inspector: all the company does is inspections, no repairs, and he’s not a moonlighting realtor), noting a variety of tiny things to be resolved and a couple of slightly-larger repairs, but also noting that the important stuff was all great. He was as enthusiastic about the house as I’ve ever seen an inspector be–“this house is in great shape” is a literal quote. (I think he was also pleased, because he’s been inspecting a lot of bank-owned properties, which tend not to be in great repair.) And I suspect the bones were one reason this house also had four offers.

If you’d like a moral here, there is one:

  • Pay attention to household maintenance first. Keep your house in great condition. Remodeling and the like can come a little later.

The broader story, though, is the truly peculiar and local state of real estate at this point. The Experts continue to say California’s in trouble, especially since there are probably more foreclosures coming–and, they tell us, foreclosures drag down the whole market.

It depends. From what we’ve seen in these transactions–and in the fact that both of the other houses up for sale in this neighborhood sold as rapidly as ours did [the remodeled one is off the market for now] and that the agents we talk to say multiple offers are now becoming normal again in nearby towns–it’s more complicated. I suspect the “foreclosure market” is largely separate from the traditional home-buying market.

What feels good: The sellers in Livermore are happy with our offer (yes, we paid more than asking, but they’d priced it fairly)–and we’re delighted with the house. The buyers in Mountain View are delighted with the house–and we’re happy with their offer. Two win:win transactions–that’s how business and real estate should work, but win:win seems to have been in short supply recently.

Broader implications? I’m not sure there are any. I do know this: Broad statements about The Real-Estate Market or even The California Real-Estate Market are too broad to be very useful. Even broad statements about the Mountain View or Livermore markets may be too broad. Local, local, local…


I haven’t written anything about the Darien statement, and not much of anything about the latest Taiga list. Nor do I intend to at this point. Once things become more peaceful and after there’s been enough time for various folks to digest and respond, I might do a “preserving the zeitgeist” piece or I might not. If I do, I’m likely to be more observer than participant.

Readers of ONLINE magazine may feel that I’ve already responded, though, since my March/April 2009 “Crawford at Large” column, “Futurism and Libraries,” includes a section entitled “The library” fallacy, with “The library” in quotes. That column was written long before the Darien statement–but I’ll stand by my unease with the whole notion of “the library” either as Platonic ideal or useful universalism. (I’ve already gone on record as finding “one big library” more unfortunate than useful.) I’m not strong on universalisms in general. Beyond that, I’m just not taking part in this discussion at the moment.

One Response to “Stones, bones and a footnote”

  1. Mark says:

    Thanks for pointing this Footnote out, Walt. I don’t get Online but we (UIUC) have electronic access so I printed it out and read it. [Next time I need to use a database other than Wilson Web though because their pdfs are horrible!]

    So much I could have said about some of the current musing but I tried to restrain myself to the most important point I (and others) saw but got shouted down. Simplification is what many of my peers seem to want. Short and succinct–overreaching or not–make for a better Message.

    Glad to hear the house issues worked out well, too.