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Covet Thy Neighbor's House

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Who needs a house of their own anyway? Just pretend you own someone else's!

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The National Association of Realtors, an organization that is near and dear to "Five Things" columnist Kevin "Pepe" Depew's heart, reported yesterday that existing home sales dropped by 3.8% in June to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.75 mln units.

That's the slowest sales pace since November 2002 and the decline was about twice what had been forecast.

However, Federal Reserve Chairman Trapper John Bernanke, M.D. told Congress last week that the housing downturn wouldn't slow growth in the immediate future.


Trapper John Bernanke, M.D.: overly optimistic

Hold the phone-even the National Association of Home Builders say things are smelling kinda skunky.

David Seiders, the NAHB's chief economist, revised his forecast for housing construction on 2007. It now shows a decline of 23% after a 14% drop in '06.

The Mortgage Bankers Association said its seasonally adjusted index of mortgage applications for the week ended July 20 decreased 3.6% to a level of 609.0.

Then, on a three-hour conference call with Wall Street analysts, Countrywide Financial (CFC) chairman and CEO Angelo Mozilo said that the housing sector would continue to suffer until sometime in 2008 and not begin recovering until 2009.


Angelo Mozilo, lookin' good in orange…

To ensure no one would be too freaked by his assessment, Mozilo smoothed ruffled feathers by helpfully adding that home prices were falling "almost like never before, with the exception of the Great Depression."

Well, whatever. Who needs a house of their own anyway? Just pretend you own someone else's!

According to today's New York Times, something called "house stalking" is fast becoming a popular hobby. Or disorder, depending on your worldview.

Everyone's admired other people's homes here and there, perhaps slowing down a mile-per-hour or two when passing by to take a look. However, the article points out that, "like many intense attractions, the level of interest can escalate, and people often turn from casual admirers or failed bidders to near-obsessives who may stop and stare longingly, or even amateur detectives-snapping photos, talking to neighbors and tracking down property records."

Many of them are using Google (GOOG) Earth to get a more invasive better view of the objects of their affection, as well as turning to blogs like Real Estalker, which, as the name implies, lets people stalk find out more about other people's homes-including tax assessments, square footage, and purchase prices.

Have any Disney (DIS) in your portfolio? Then, as an owner of the company, you should be entitled to see where your former CEO, Michael Eisner, lives:



Are you one of the 270,000 people that bought an Apple (AAPL) iPhone? You'll no doubt be pleased to see that Steve Jobs is spending your money well:



Want to see the Omaha digs where Berkshire Hathaway's (BRK.A) Warren Buffett hangs his hat?



Okay, so it's not much of a surprise that everyone's interested in where the bold-faced names live. But "house stalkers" stalk the homes of regular Joes.

Who are these people?

Obviously, a bunch of unhinged individuals existing on the fringes of society-not college professors or therapists or people like that.

Oh…wait. They are college professors and therapists and people like that?

Margaret Farrar, an associate professor of political science at Augustana College, told the Times that, after a house she toured was sold to another bidder, she couldn't get the house out of her mind and "became obsessed with the idea that the new owners were not worthy."

I believe Eli Lilly and Company (LLY) manufactures something called Zyprexa specifically to combat this sort of condition.

Wendy Williamson-Scrim, a music therapist in Ottawa, has been stalking a house (and the horse in the yard) for six years and has not only photographed it, but has developed her own floor plan by carefully studying the building's façade.

Williamson-Scrim, 38, is quoted as saying, "I like the space that comes with it. It would be great for my kids to run around. That, and the whole idea of having a horse. I've always wanted a horse."

Hang on-in Canada, homeowners throw in their pets with the house?

Maybe that's the way to get home sales back up.
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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