# Friday Flashback: “Laughing Laughing Laughing”

Long-time readers of Seattle Bubble may recall that while I generally avoid engaging in blatant schadenfreude, I do make one specific exception.

That special case is for a commenter that used to be quite prolific on these pages, leaving over 800 comments between November 2005 and August 2007. Dozens of those comments were on the subject of the ever-increasing value Zillow was “Zestimating” for the home he bought for \$431,200 in April 2005 in Loyal Heights (which he imagines to be in Ballard).

Here’s a representative example of the type of thing he used to post here on a fairly regular basis:

I also notice today that Zillow revised the value for my house… it shot up another \$16K in just one month! Now stands at \$549,788. That’s \$167,359 more than [the Zestimate was] when we bought it in April 2005.*

Synthetik…remember you bet me my Zillow value would tank???? Nice prediction… Laughing Laughing Laughing Laughing Laughing

*[Zillow backdates changes in their Zestimates, so although the Zestimate for the house in question had a Zestimate of \$382,429 in April 2005, it shows as \$404,000 for April 2005 as of March 2011.]

In May 2007 (the month Zillow’s backdated Zestimate for his home peaked) he was even on here bragging about how high his Zestimate was and how unlikely it was to fall by the following December. By December it had fallen to its lowest point all year.

But the peak is old news, and not the reason for this post. I bring all of this up today because with this week’s update, our old friend’s Zillow Zestimate crossed another milestone. At \$430,500, his home is now worth less than he paid nearly six years ago, according to the algorithms at Zillow that he once so revered.

Just for kicks, let’s run a bit of math on Mr. Laughing’s home situation over the last few years. I find this exercise to be particularly interesting since he bought a home right around the time that I was first shopping for a home and decided to start this blog instead of jumping into an insane market.

Let’s assume our friend had \$27,000 to put down (6.25% of the price). We’ll further assume that he took out one mortgage at 5.86% for 80% of the purchase price (\$345,000) and another at 7% for the remainder (\$59,200). Total monthly payments (including taxes and insurance): \$2,800. Total interest paid in six years: \$140,383. We’ll ignore the cost of maintenance and the income tax write off (which basically cancel each other out) to keep things simple.

But what if he had rented instead? Let’s assume that Zillow’s fancy new “Rent Zestimate” for his home is accurate at \$2,010 a month, and that rents in the area have increased at about 3% annually over the last few years. That would put his starting rent in 2005 at \$1,734, and his total rent paid over six years at \$134,583. If he saved the difference between rent and home payments each month, he would have \$67,017 in the bank, assuming zero interest.

Here’s the difference in handy table form, including a comparison of extractable equity—how much cash could you get in your pocket from each scenario, which you might want to do if the house you were living in wasn’t your dream home, or a job opportunity came up in another state, or you just want to move to a nicer neighborhood.

 Buy Rent “Thrown Away” \$140,383 \$134,583 Equity \$60,975 \$67,017 Extractable Equity \$22,230 \$67,017

I can’t think of much else to say other than to wonder out loud: Who is Laughing Laughing Laughing Laughing Laughing now?

P.S. – Although this commenter was open about his real identity and his home address on this site, I’m not going to call those out specifically since we were a lot less popular back then, and that just seems to be crossing the line.

Tim Ellis is the founder of Seattle Bubble. His background in engineering and computer / internet technology, a fondness of data-based analysis of problems, and an addiction to spreadsheets all influence his perspective on the Seattle-area real estate market.

1. 1
Real World Express says:

Bucking the trend: I recently changed work locations to the Georgetown area. I noticed as I seek out lunch places that there are very cool and trendy retail shops sprouting like wild flowers.

Looking at real estate prices, it seems to be one of the few areas where there are increases going on (albeit the housing stock is somewhat limited). For example, here’s a house that was \$80,000 in 1990, and has continually gone up and up to its current \$400K asking:

http://www.redfin.com/WA/Seattle/6239-Carleton-Ave-S-98108/home/476702

No bubble pop. If anything, opposite.

2. 2
whatsmyname says:

I don’t know Tim. That’s a lot of assumptions to arrive at what is essentially a rounding error of difference in wealth. If he’s just in it for money, it’s maybe a questionable move. If he is motivated by a desire for “doing the garden, digging the weeds”, he’s had 6 years of the experience. And if that’s the case, what would he do with the larger extractable equity? Buy a house?

3. 3
The Tim says:

RE: whatsmyname @ 2 – How do you figure a 3x multiple to be “essentially a rounding error of difference in wealth”? \$67k vs \$22k is a pretty big difference to me.

4. 4
Teacher_Greg says:

ahhhh Sniglet…

5. 5
whatsmyname says:

RE: The Tim @ 3
I looked at your handy table form:

Thrown away: \$140K or \$134K
Equity: \$61K or \$67K

As to the “extractable” equity: IF you want a house, then it’s basically good for putting into a house. Once you’ve done that, it is no more extractable than if it was there all along.

I was careful to include that “if” in my statement.

6. 6

You Can Have Georgetown and Its Scarce RE, IMO

Article in part:

“…Tens of thousands of motorists roar past on Interstate 5 and East Marginal Way South without giving Georgetown a second glance.

During the day it hums with the noise of airplanes, trains and 18-wheelers carrying auto parts, frozen meat, electronics, office equipment, produce, kitchen cabinets.

At night and on weekends many businesses shut down, leaving Georgetown’s back streets eerily quiet despite neighboring King County International Airport, best known as Boeing Field….”

“…This south Duwamish community is a high-octane blend of commerce, industry and vigilant homeowners. There’s also a growing number of artists who have discovered affordable studio space amid the dilapidated but historic buildings, scruffy storefronts, non-descript warehouses and unpaved parking lots….”

http://www.seattlepi.com/webtowns/article.asp?WTID=20&ID=107875

Isn’t that the part of Seattle that looks like Hades? Old buildings, crumbling infrastructure and potholed roads?

The article above talks about “affordable homes”…LOL….these 1921 museum pieces sit on small lots in this industrial zoned airport town [kinda like Burien next to Seatac, with higher prices and lots more industry mess with worse roads]. Here’s an example:

http://activerain.com/states/WA/cities/Seattle/communities/Georgetown

\$400K affordable for an old remodeled museum piece in an anomalous neighborhood? LOL

If you like it, good for you…enjoy the noise and conjestion :-)

7. 7
Kevin says:

@1 400k _asking_. That’s a drop from 420,000 asking on Jan 1st.

The zillow estimate (currently 272,500) on that home shows the exact same trend as highlighted in this post.

Although it looks like the owners have done some serious renovations. But who knows if that was before or after the 2005 sale?

8. 8
Shoe Guy says:

By Kevin @ 7:

@1 400k _asking_. That’s a drop from 420,000 asking on Jan 1st.

The zillow estimate (currently 272,500) on that home shows the exact same trend as highlighted in this post.

Although it looks like the owners have done some serious renovations. But who knows if that was before or after the 2005 sale?

His place sold for 170k in 1997 and he purchased for \$431k only eight years later. I hope for the sake of him not being a dummy (doubtful) that the massive renovation happened between those two points to justify such a price jump even during the bubble…

But maybe not…a 950k asking price in 2009??? A half million dollars more for the same house four years later? Eight hundred thousand dollars in increased value in a bit over a decade?

Am I reading the numbers wrong, or is the owner of this house insane going into the purchase AND trying to sell?

9. 9
Dave0 says:

RE: Teacher_Greg @ 4 – I’m not sure what Sniglet has to do with this post. He definitely wasn’t the owner of this house in Loyal Heights. Since Tim didn’t mention it, I’ll keep “Mr. Laughing’s” username a mystery as well.

10. 10
BrianL says:

Interesting trip through the wayback machine… But I’m wondering if the math should also include the income tax decuction the homeowner gets v. the renter? Or is that already baked in and I missed it? It would narrow the gap a bit, although not enough to close it…

11. 11
An Onyx Mousse says:

Regardless, it definitely gives the lie to the idea that renting is “throwing your money away.” Owning a home is not a quick path to profits unless there is a bubble about to pop… If you want to just buy a house and be happy living in it, no one will make you post on SeattleBubble about how much money you are making… ;-) Also, if you have a job change, that equity becomes real money that affects your next housing decisions.

12. 12
David Losh says:

RE: Dave0 @ 9

The point about Sniglet is well taken. He predicted an 80% drop in pricing from the peak of the housing bubble. His theory is based on deflation. In my opinion he, along with many people, never saw, or thought the global government bodies would be dumping trillions of dollars, and Euros into the economy to forestall a deflationary spiral.

The problem with the laughing is that with the proper business plan the commenter could be coming out dollars ahead, had they paid down the mortgage. The mistake was looking at appreciation, without taking steps to capture it. Paper is paper, but it only has value if it’s dollars.

Last is the Georgetown pricing which hasn’t had a chance to equalize. There are plenty of people who will pay way too much for a property, even today, without looking at the realities of the asset. Georgetown is maybe a job center, but I really doubt it. It’s not a bet I would make.

13. 13
The Tim says:

By BrianL @ 10:

I’m wondering if the math should also include the income tax decuction the homeowner gets v. the renter?

I did not “bake it in” but I left it out on purpose along with the added homeowner cost of maintenance. Also note the disadvantage I gave the renter’s scenario by assuming zero interest earned on the savings.

I’ve added a line to the post to clarify that the tax deduction benefit is not included in the numbers provided.

14. 14
Lurker says:

I love Georgetown, it’s where I work every day and even thought about buying a home down here at one time. I don’t care how big the potential “hip” value is though, even the city’s best falafel truck nearby doesn’t justify a 1920s home w/ less than 1000 livable sq ft for 400K. That is just my opinion though.

You get lotsa planes, trains, trucks and crappy roads. Heck, it doesn’t even have a grocery store. I like the beautiful crib in the listing photo. Have a family? Be sure to check out the registered offender map before going to an open house.

15. 15
LA Relo says:

I had to LLLLOL when I saw the make me move price.

P.S. I found his house. Too small for me, and \$950k had to be a joke.

16. 16
BrianL says:

By The Tim @ 13:

By BrianL @ 10:

I’m wondering if the math should also include the income tax decuction the homeowner gets v. the renter?

I did not “bake it in” but I left it out on purpose along with the added homeowner cost of maintenance. Also note the disadvantage I gave the renter’s scenario by assuming zero interest earned on the savings.

I’ve added a line to the post to clarify that the tax deduction benefit is not included in the numbers provided.

Cool, agree that the maintenance cost of ownership is a fair enough offset to the tax deduction benefit for the owner side of the equation.

Mr. Laughing is now underwater. And that water is made of the tears of a ton of people in the same situation. Doh!

17. 17
Scotsman says:

“Also, if you have a job change, that equity becomes real money that affects your next housing decisions.”

Real equity? After including the transaction costs of selling? Just as likely to become an anchor that leaves you unable to sell your upside down house. But you can always rent it out while the losses continue to accumulate.

I’m stunned, stunned, I tell you, that people (realtors?) still assume that real estate always goes up. How hard does the 2X4 have to smack across the face to get some to wake up?

18. 18
anonimaniac says:

RE: Lurker @ 14

And don’t forget all that toxic goo bubbling underneath Georgetown from decades of airplane manufacture/industrial activity. Don’t bother planting a vegetable garden. You would not want to eat them. Even aside from the EPA problems, too much money, especially for Georgetown.

19. 19
B. says:

“If he saved the difference between rent and home payments each month, he would have \$67,017 in the bank, assuming zero interest.”

The Economist recently called this sort of assumption “heroic” in an article on the rent v. buy conundrum. Clearly just about any homeowner not in it for the long-term would have been better off had they rented over the past few years. But this particular assumption gives Mr. Laughing too much credit. He’d likely have spent a good portion of the delta on something he didn’t need.

20. 20
Leigh says:

Is that \$950K asking price a joke? At what point did the owner realize what is happening to this market if they ever realized? Is ignorance bliss in this case? I have noticed around my neck of the woods here in Portland that many seem to be holding out for those 2007 prices…aka shadow inventory. Wonder how long they will wait before eventually putting their homes on the market?

In the meantime I will enjoy my cheap rent:O)

21. 21
S. Marty Pantz says:

The Tim also did not include the enviable intangibles Laughing has enjoyed these past six years — such as being able to toast his hefty mortgage and spend long evenings discussing hardwood floor finishes, crown moldings and his all-important soaring equity. https://seattlebubble.com/blog/2010/03/12/friday-flashback-the-last-spaceship-flight-off-a-planet-thats-about-to-explode/

22. 22
The Tim says:

RE: Leigh @ 20 – Yes, it was quite obviously a joke. But then again the \$565k price was a joke too, the owner just may not have realized it. For that matter, the entire “make me move” feature is something of a joke.

23. 23
Fran Tarkenton says:

By B. @ 19:

“If he saved the difference between rent and home payments each month, he would have \$67,017 in the bank, assuming zero interest.”

The Economist recently called this sort of assumption “heroic” in an article on the rent v. buy conundrum. Clearly just about any homeowner not in it for the long-term would have been better off had they rented over the past few years. But this particular assumption gives Mr. Laughing too much credit. He’d likely have spent a good portion of the delta on something he didn’t need.

What’s this assertion? That money saved on housing doesn’t count if you would have spent it on something else?

24. 24
Daniel says:

By The Tim @ 3:

RE: whatsmyname @ 2 – How do you figure a 3x multiple to be “essentially a rounding error of difference in wealth”? \$67k vs \$22k is a pretty big difference to me.

Which makes the flawed assumption that he ever wants to extract any money instead of just living in a home he owns. 67k vs 60k is quite even and 6k for having the freedom to do what you please with the home you live in amounts to less than 100\$ a month, which seems a small price tag to pay for that freedom. Unless he bragged about buying a home as an investment I can not see him being off that terrible.

Of course even this comparison is flawed as, provided his goal was home ownership, one should really calculate based on a situation where he would straight out own the house after the same number of years, but either taking the loan when he did or delaying the decision to first save a bigger down payment.

On the other hand, comparing the development of his home to the local averages makes me very doubtful that numbers other than Zillow’s would turn out the same favorable for him.

25. 25

RE: BrianL @ 10 -Both Tim and I Usually Eliminate the Tax Write-off

If we also eliminate the maintenance costs of ownership. Its an estimate, but with federal butcher axing as we blog…..even the sacred cow RE tax write-off may lose its head soon and that would make it even FAR worse against buyers with 2004-2010 mortgage nooses around their necks.

26. 26
Ross says:

RE: Dave0 @ 9 -[…]In my opinion he, along with many people, never saw, or thought the global government bodies would be dumping trillions of dollars, and Euros into the economy to forestall a deflationary spiral. […]

He might not have believed it could happen, but there were plenty of discussions on this blog about the possibilities of increased or even hyper inflation coming to the USA.For example:https://seattlebubble.com/blog/2010/06/18/reader-question-worried-about-goldmans-22-forecast/comment-page-1/#comment-103827
https://seattlebubble.com/blog/2009/07/27/are-home-price-drops-around-seattle-mostly-over/comment-page-1/#comment-79153

27. 27
Drone says:

RE: softwarengineer @ 25
I seriously doubt the RE deduction will ever be eliminated, but if it is I’m guessing it would apply to new purchases only. There would be a slight reduction in selling price to compensate, but this reduction is tough to quantify. Sparing existing owners would prevent ugly political stories about suddenly-hiked tax bills (and no doubt lead to new RE marketing: “Buy now before the deduction expires forever”).

I find that calculating the deduction just muddies the numbers… the money saved in income tax is almost all lost to property tax anyway, so it’s a wash as far as I’m concerned.

28. 28
David Losh says:

RE: Ross @ 26

Hyper inflation is what I guessed. Deflation was never a consideration.

Many people saw the Fed throwing in money, but never saw that it would only keep deflation at bay.

In my opinion, with Republicans talking deficit reduction, there is no hope for more money printing. After this June interest rates will start to creep back up. The rests that many people anticipated will become a reality with mortgage payments moving up. Wages have already stagnated.

Inflation may only be a talking point in the next few years.

29. 29
pat b says:

it’s nice to own if you want to build in eco features and need time to
amortize that stuff.

We buy wind power electricity from the Local Utility, but, we want to
put in a solar hot water heater.

30. 30
LocalYokel says:

This guy was infected by the false, imaginary wealth created during the bubble years and gripped by the lingering effects. Schadenfreude, maybe….well yeah, alot, but I feel for this
guy and his family because they represent 100’s if not 1000’s of other families just like them.
It is quite easy to make financial mistakes that will make you feel like your balls are in a
vise-grip, while somebody is slowing turning the handle. I hope the best for him and many
like him.

31. 31
Macro Investor says:

Don’t feel sorry for “laughing boy”. People who gloat like that are usually industry shills making an emotional appeal to pull in more hapless buyers. They are to be despised. Personally, I hope he borrowed all his temporary equity and bought more houses. That would make me laugh, laugh, laugh.

32. 32
geon says:

Still renting here, going on six years. We seriously want to move this year, one way or another–have said that before. LOL. Still working on our down payment, was 250, now is up to 500. May not need one.

33. 33
deejayoh says:

I can’t believe you left off his Gravatar with the baby wearing the rose-colored glasses…

34. 34
Jonness says:

-The point about Sniglet is well taken. He predicted an 80% drop in pricing from the peak of the housing bubble. His theory is based on deflation. In my opinion he, along with many people, never saw, or thought the global government bodies would be dumping trillions of dollars, and Euros into the economy to forestall a deflationary spiral.

His theory was that wealth destruction was too large for the government’s miniscule trillions to make a difference.

But let’s not completely count him out yet. Stocks appear to be the only thing recovering during this “recovery.” Bernanke has juiced the market like crazy, so it’s no surprise it continues to be buoyant.

Historically speaking, bull markets have not needed to be juiced in order to move up. They’ve grown on their own merit. What’s going to happen when QE2 ends, and the republicans impede spending? Are we currently witnessing a stimulus-based bear market rally that has yet to top? Personally, I’m not completely convinced we are not trapped in a multi-decade secular bear market that started in the latter 90’s. June will have a lot of answers.

http://stockcharts.com/charts/historical/djia1900.html

35. 35
BillE says:

By geon @ 32:

Still renting here, going on six years. We seriously want to move this year, one way or another–have said that before. LOL. Still working on our down payment, was 250, now is up to 500. May not need one.

Yes!

“Oh, you’re looking for a house? I know a mortgage guy who is really good.”
“No thanks. We’re not getting a mortgage.”

How sweet is that?

36. 36
Jonness says:

By geon @ 32:

Still renting here, going on six years. We seriously want to move this year, one way or another–have said that before. LOL. Still working on our down payment, was 250, now is up to 500. May not need one.

Winner, winner, chicken dinner! In a very short period of time, you have set yourself up for life. :)

37. 37
Dirty Renter says:

RE: Jonness @ 34
When observing the DJIA over extended periods, bear in mind that said index is continuously changing its make-up. For instance, had they not swapped out Honeywell for Bank of America a few years ago, it would be much higher today. I’m not a big fan of index funds for this very reason….I’d rather lose my own money than have an unknown selection committee lose it for me.

38. 38
Alex says:

Tim,
We all know you hold grudges for a long time, but this post just comes off as petty. A cheap way to boost your own ego.

Not analytical, rational or even professional.

What’s the point?

I would think that at this point in your career you would have learned how to be gracious.

39. 39

RE: Jonness @ 36

Am I not the only one that sees the original post as a positive (to this site’s general feeling) troll? At recent rates, unless you moved out of VFINX at the peak and reinvested at the drop*, to grow from \$250k to \$500k in 5 years would require saving ~ \$3k/m. If that’s the difference between mortgage and rent then you’ve been living in a dump or shoe box compared to what you consider a house you’d buy (even mortgage free) for the lifestyle you’d like. Good on you if so, though my wife couldn’t take it :)

(* If you were that smart you should have really sold SBUX at the peak, reinvested at \$5 and gained x7 now!)

40. 40
Synthetik says:

Tim,

I don’t think he was open about his name or address initially was he?

It’s been, what, six years? It’s tough to remember the details. M was an amazing prick but he sure kept things interesting.

I haven’t bought yet but I’ve promised the wife we’ll be owners again by 2013. I’ll probably use Redfin. Glad to see you working there. :)

41. 41
Matthew says:

Personally, I love these blast from the past articles. Having been active on this site from the beginning, it’s interesting to see the difference between now and then.Also amazing the amount of trolls that came to the site and how very few of them are left. We used to really have some wars about whether there was a bubble or not, apparently that discussion has been settled.I wonder what the Shugster is doing or if he ever comes on here anymore. I bet he is lurking. I think I actually miss that guy.

42. 42
doug says:

RE: Kiki’s Dad @ 39 -No, I felt the same way. (as to it being positive trolling) Maybe he has a real honey of a deal on renting a house. However, if I was making that kind of money, I’d rather spend a few extra bucks in interest than spend six of my best years in an apartment. Hell, I’m not making that kind of money, and I’m still doing it.It all depends on the particulars, but being ardently anti-mortgage in this environment is as blinded as the topic of the Tim’s original post.

43. 43
Jonness says:

RE: Jonness @ 36 – Am I not the only one that sees the original post as a positive (to this site’s general feeling) troll? At recent rates, unless you moved out of VFINX at the peak and reinvested at the drop*, to grow from \$250k to \$500k in 5 years would require saving ~ \$3k/m. If that’s the difference between mortgage and rent then you’ve been living in a dump or shoe box compared to what you consider a house you’d buy (even mortgage free) for the lifestyle you’d like.

I live in a shoebox dump and have a pretty high savings rate, despite making a mere human-level salary. :)

And here comes that second leg down: http://newsinabox.net/1342/house-prices-in-us-fall.html

My girlfriend is getting tired of our frugal lifestyle though, so I might buy soon. I’ve managed to save enough that it doesn’t matter as much as it used to, so I’ll see how it works out. :)

44. 44
Refracted Thought says:

LOL!

I was an avid reader on here back in those days and remember betting with Shug on when the market would turn — right around summer of ’07 is what I said, I think.

So funny. I haven’t been on here much since the matter was settled, but I’m actually entertaining the idea of buying now. And what do I see when I first browse to the page, but a post all about our dear old friend. Ah, memories.

45. 45
Sotocapo says:

I hoped I would never read a post like this from Tim. Clearly we had a bubble and Mr. S. was wrong. But all this boys-network one-upmanship is a turnoff for me and I imagine many other regular readers of SB. Sometimes the threads read like high school. Can we talk the present and issues that affect us all? It’s disheartening to see you all dredge it up again. Definitely bursts any bubble that Tim is a professional of any kind.

46. 46
Matthew says:

Move along troll.

47. 47
Refracted Thought says:

Tim could do all this with obnoxious sock puppets for all I care. My wallet would still be thanking me for tuning in.

48. 48
Sotocapo says:

I am not a Troll I have been reading this blog for years, I also bought low and sold high in the last decade. There’s a reason many regular readers never post and that’s when a discussion on local real estate dissolves into vitriol. I think it’s just low to focus on one individual. It was clear what everyone thought about his opinions many years ago. Let sleeping dogs stay that way.

49. 49
Alex says:

I wish that the Seattle Bubble blog would emulate the tone and professionalism of Nate Silver of 538 (politics & statistics), and Bill McBride of Calculated Risk (Finance & Economics). Obviously the content differs, but Nate Silver demonstrates how you can take a small blog and make it very influential while keeping the tone civil, the content mathematically rigorous, and intellectually honest.

Tim, you often miss really basic things like compounding interest & statistical significance. As far as intellectual honesty, well… Lets just acknowledge that you are biased.

This blog sometimes provides useful & informative data, however it could be so much better and really make a difference.

I hoped I would never read a post like this from Tim. Clearly we had a bubble and Mr. S. was wrong. But all this boys-network one-upmanship is a turnoff for me and I imagine many other regular readers of SB. Sometimes the threads read like high school. Can we talk the present and issues that affect us all? It’s disheartening to see you all dredge it up again. Definitely bursts any bubble that Tim is a professional of any kind.