Five Things: October 21, 2021

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Housing prices were already too high for many Newark residents. Then the investors came. | Payton Guion

“Of the 3,833 property buyers recorded in Newark so far this year, at least 1,225 of them — nearly one-third — were listed as a limited liability company, corporation or limited partnership, all of which are business structures often used in real estate investment.”

The real estate market in Northern New Jersey went bananas last year, partly driven by NYers fleeing congested lives made intolerably worse by the pandemic, but also by banal greed that has subtly transformed home ownership from Boomers’ white-washed embodiment of the American Dream to something more explicitly nightmarish.

Over the years, we’ve watched “flippers” remuddle amazing old houses in the greater Newark area, destroying any signs of personality and historic appeal in favor of bland, modern “updates” that are mostly cosmetic and appeal to the uninformed Zillow browser chasing gentrification. I’m heartened that organizations like the Urban League of Essex County are fighting to keep housing affordable and accessible to current residents, but they’re fighting an uphill battle against a system that purposefully advantages other outcomes.

NOTE: This is the free, licensed version of a paywalled article from my local paper. I have a subscription, but unless you live here, you probably don’t.


The Death of the Starter Home: Where Have All the Small Houses Gone? | Elena Cox

“Investors, many of whom can offer all cash, also are vying for the same homes, but with a big financial advantage.”

We’ve lived in the greater Newark area since 2008, when we fled the Bronx looking for a better school system and more space, and after 10+ years in a cozy three-bedroom apartment, moved into a rented 3(ish)BR house in the summer of 2019 on a two-year lease. Our plan was to get used to living in a house, understanding all of the nuances, and our next move would find us well-informed, in a home we owned, somewhere in the general area.

The pandemic threw a wrench into those plans, particularly with a hot market that saw houses selling within days of being listed, often well beyond their asking prices and, in some cases, even beyond their appraised value. As a family of five adults (including my mother-in-law, who would be staying with us frequently once we had enough space for her), we weren’t looking for a starter home, but most of what was in our price range in the town we were living in were starter homes, and we were regularly competing with NYers with deeper pockets. The fixer-upper starter homes investors were targeting were only slightly cheaper, and would be out of our range once they were quickly re-listed a few months later.

We finally found our dream house one town over, right across the border, which effectively kept us in our favorite neighborhood and saved us at least $100,000. The house we’d been renting ultimately sold for a little more than we paid for ours, despite being a quintessential starter home—literally half the size of our current home. That’s the difference a zip code and racial demographics can have on the “value” of real estate (and in reverse, on car insurance), a concept even more fraught than the astronomical valuations of unprofitable companies with little-to-no societal value.


Zillow Pauses Homebuying as Tech-Powered Flipping Hits Snag | Patrick Clark

“In 2018, the company launched Zillow Offers, joining a small group of tech-enabled home-flippers known as iBuyers. In the new business, Zillow invites homeowners to request an offer on their house and uses algorithms to generate a price. If an owner accepts, Zillow buys the property, makes light repairs and puts it back on the market.”

I had no idea Zillow was in the flipping business, but that apparently explains its astronomical market cap of $22B?!? I despise the financial world more than just about anything, and anywhere it intersects with technology there’s likely to be trouble, so I’m surprised they’re even allowed to buy and sell properties with the amount of data they have access to. Not to mention the ability to put their thumb on the scale with their Zestimates.

Of course, Wall Street has zero scruples so it all makes perfect sense.


Follett Addresses New Directions and Challenges at Annual Summit | Shannon Maughan

“Folks are protesting outside schools about masks, arguing about vaccines, quarantining kids on a daily basis. So rather than making a decision about how they’re going to spend their $5,000 library order, they’re trying to sort through how we get through the school year.”

There’s a lot of good public and school library insights peppered throughout this overview, but that part really jumped out at me. The on-the-ground reality for most librarians (and educators) doesn’t get nearly enough attention in conversations about the pandemic, political upheavals, or the supply chain; they’re just expected to keep moving forward and do more with less, like nothing’s changed.

The opportunities and challenges abound for those of us in the business of serving libraries, and we’ll all be feeling the pandemic’s direct and extended impact for a long while. It’s important to step away from the spreadsheets and hot takes now and then, and remember that the “supply chain” is made up of real people, most of whom have been deep in the shit for more than a year now.


Penguin Classics to Publish Special Editions of Marvel Comics | John Maher

“The first three books in the series, Black Panther, Captain America, and The Amazing Spider-Man, will be published on June 14 of next year, in both a paperback sporting Penguin’s iconic black spine and a collectible hardcover edition. Each will include a foreword by a contemporary young adult author… and a scholarly introduction.”

This is a clever bit of industry branding that will make these more palatable… I mean, “accessible” to a particular audience of reviewers, retailers, and readers who would otherwise ignore them if the same exact books were simply published by Marvel itself. Slap a “scholarly” introduction and a foreword by some literary darling du jour on a copy of any Marvel Essentials collection, add a Penguin logo to it, and traditional influencers who don’t care about comics will eat it up.

Plus, a collectible hardcover for the completionists? Profit!

I assume this was part of the “corporate synergy” pitch that resulted in Marvel moving their periodicals distribution from Diamond to Penguin Random House, although that relationship has gotten off to a surprisingly rocky start.

I also wonder if any of the original creators will receive royalties from these new editions, or if Marvel’s selective “kindness” is only reserved for the movies and the creators willing and able to make a fuss?

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