Housing markets

Buying housing = rolling dice?

The value of a house seems to have nothing to do with the house itself and everything to do with the whims of the market.

Among my friends, several have “lost” 40% of their home value. Hypothetically. They have not sold, so they have not lost it yet, I guess.

It is a very strange concept that an investment can change so much in value in just a few years. Of course, other investments work that way too — take stocks, for example. And yet I always thought that was very strange as well. Stock prices change day to day (or even minute to minute), even though almost nothing changes in the company whose stock you are buying over that time scale. The market seems to take on a life of its own, creating its own dynamics.

So too with houses: the houses are not changing; it’s just the buyers and sellers and their financing that are fluctuating around for reasons entirely unrelated to # of rooms, square footage, and earthquake-soundness.


Living near highways

There is an article in the LA Weekly this week about living near highways. It mainly argues that the LA City Council has ignored evidence of the health risks of living near highways and allowed developers to build highway-adjacent developments.

Here are the facts I pulled from the article:

  1. Residents living near highways note that a lot of “dust” builds up in the apartment.
  2. USC scientists have done two studies. The first was called the “Children’s Health Study,” published in the New England Journal of Medicine. This studied 1,700 children and compared children who live in relatively clean-air zones to children who live in more polluted areas. High rates of underdeveloped lungs were seen in the polluted areas.
  3. The second study was a longitudinal study of 3,600 children. Children living within 528 feet of a freeway suffer reduced lung development.
  4. Another study involving USC researchers reported that hardening of the arteries is twice as common among Angelenos living within a block of an LA freeway.
  5. A study from UCLA reported that pregnant women within 750 feet of a freeway have a greater-than-average risk of delivering premature babies.
  6. McConnell, a USC environmental health researcher, has said that the smallest particles pass through the respiratory system, into the body and the brain.
  7. He also says that pollution tests have shown that traffic-related pollutants diminish rapidly within about 300m (984 feet) from the freeway.
  8. Home air-filtration systems will not remove the smallest particles from the air.

I was very disappointed to see that the article did not actually quantify most of these facts. For #2, #3, and #5, the magnitude of increased risk was not given. For #6, the relevant question to ask is what is known about the health implications of the particles. For #8, what risk do the smallest particles cause, what concentrations are they present in, and what should we compare these numbers to?

I can easily believe that living near a highway is probably worse than not living near a highway, all other things being equal. I have noticed that dirt/dust/stuff builds up on my outdoor furniture at a much greater rate than other places I have lived. I think we need more scientific studies of this type to assess health risks, and I agree with the main point of the LA Weekly article that city government needs to pay attention to scientific studies to set zoning policies.

But… but… printing an article without any numbers in it just gets people scared, without giving them the information they need to actually assess risk. For example, driving on the freeway each day also increases the amount of time you spend breathing particulate-laden air. So is it better to live within 1000 feet of a freeway but not commute, or live 0.5 miles from a freeway but spend 1.5 hours each day on the freeway in your car? Any sensible analysis of overall risk has to take into account your total exposure levels throughout the day.

Earthquake risk

It seems if there is a big earthquake, we are all in trouble.

I have been asking around, and many people I know do not have earthquake insurance. Suppose a big earthquake hits LA. Will poorer neighborhoods become more or less uninhabitable, because people do not have any spare money to carry out repairs? Or will wealthier neighborhoods be hit harder, because the costs of rebuilding a $15 million house are prohibitive? Will only neighborhoods with houses in the $800K-$1.2 million range survive, due to some ideal balance of spare income vs. cost of repair?

Or, will certain areas of the city fall over due to poor construction, while others survive relatively intact?

What about skyscrapers?

Will the government actually have money for disaster relief?

Stray animals

We seem to have a lot of stray cats and dogs around here. There are so many that you can not start worrying every time you see one. Here is my mental categorization scheme:

  • Cats that only come out at night: don’t worry. They can fend for themselves.
  • Cats that walk around during the day but do not meow at people: don’t worry. They are doing fine.
  • Cats that walk around during the day, look very skinny, and meow at you continuously: worry.
  • Dogs that walk around on their own: worry. Dogs should not walk around on their own.

I can’t figure out what to do about them, though. LA Animal Services ends up killing an awful lot of cats and dogs each year, because there are not enough owners to adopt the pets in their shelters. So if I call the Animal Services, the cat or dog will enjoy regular feedings for a while, followed by a 1 in 2 chance of death. Shouldn’t I just leave them to walk around on the streets?

Yesterday I found a homeless dog outside of Ralph’s. He was very large and looked much like the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer lion. I bought him a can of dog food and left him there. He tried to bite me when I pet him.

Next to the homeless dog was a homeless man (the two were unrelated). At least, I think the man was homeless. I didn’t ask. I did not buy him any canned food. It seems I was more worried about the dog.

Independent study

Conclusions from study of 5 assorted home-decorating magazines, a.k.a. “Rich people have annoying taste”

My own guidelines:

  1. NO decorative objects (vases, bowls, bird sculptures, whatever) unless they were a Christmas present from a family member or otherwise very special. Any such items must NOT go on bedside tables/coffee tables/etc. where tea cups and magazines pile up, but be placed in display cases/wall shelves or similar.
  2. No slipcovers.
  3. No useless antique books.
  4. No nautical or beach themes,floral-print fabrics, hunting themes, antlers.
  5. No nail-studded furniture.
  6. No chunky-legged tables or chairs.
  7. No whitewashed anything, no shabby chic, no streaky paint.
  8. No visual clutter. No carved wood items, unless each line of the pattern is distinct. No messy-looking floral bouquet/scallop/curlicue carvings.
  9. No items without a purpose, chairs you can’t sit on, etc.
  11. Watch out for mixed woods on items that are right next to each other. I don’t care what the rest of the world says, I just don’t think this looks good.
  12. Yeah right, as if I am going to have freshly-cut flowers in vases in every room and eat breakfast on the “veranda.”
  13. Why is everyone putting in white, Shaker-style cabinets in their kitchens? RESIST THE TREND.
  14. I like saturated colors. This works well with a basic white-wall color scheme, with black or white framing elements.
  15. Mixing antique items and modern items can be nice, provided points 1-11 are observed.
  16. I do like marble-topped tables, if the legs are relatively clean in design.


I usually do not drive on weekdays, but last week I had occasion to be on the freeways during rush hour, in the rain. It was awful. The traffic was moving about 15-20 mph. I really do not understand why this is allowed to happen. WHY do we build highway systems and then let them completely break? From a systems perspective, the system of highways + cars is operating at WAY over capacity, with the result that efficiency breaks down, and the time it takes for people to get anywhere goes way up.

I think we should regulate the system so that traffic always flows at >50mph. There are many ways this could be done. I favor some form of charging people per mile to operate a car (either by having toll roads, a gas tax, or whatever is most practical; it would be nice to incorporate peak-hour pricing). The fees should be increased until the traffic speeds stay above 50, and the proceeds put into public transport.


It looks like we will be homeowners. This calls for a change in style. No more talk of sex offenders or crime; from here on out, it’s all about boosting my property value.

To start the boosterism, today’s subject will be our house’s collectible-quality antique door hinges. Ssee picture below. If I was a more ardent blogger, you would get a picture of the actual hinges, along with a step-by-step photo tutorial in how to remove paint by simply boiling in water. However, I am not that type of dedicated blogger, so you get a somewhat similar hinge from the Internet. Apparently, people pay $20-$50 for these hinges.

I imagine that after paying $50 for a hinge (and/or removing your hinges, boiling them in water to strip the paint off, and rehanging the doors), it would start to become very important to have visitors who actually notice said hinges. To this end, we should make friends with all the local owners of restored Victorians and Craftsmans. Alternately, we could avoid the local owners of Victorians and Craftsmans to escape the social pressure of boiling the paint off of your hinges in the first place.

Click to enlarge

Antique door hinge