Why is it, I suspect, that even as the waves were rippling over Atlantis, some real estate agent was telling his customers, "Listen, there's never been a better time to buy a house."
The stock market collapse of Oct. 19 is the latest event to trigger awave of optimism in the real estate business. As stocks plunged, property stayed about even -- and the interested groups began churning out statistics to support their notion that "There's never been a better time."
Real estate authorities note that before the collapse, interest rates were nudging 13 percent, while rates have hovered near 10.5 percent since the market dive. Some experts say rates will remain near the current level for the next months -- and some have predicted there will be single-digit money available in the spring.
So, it is easy to understand why a Mortgage Bankers Association news release said: "Lower interest rates from stock market plunge benefit home buyers," and was followed by a quote from MBA President John Teutsch Jr. that it's "a good time to buy a house."
And the National Association of Home Builders has chimed in with, "buying a home -- not stocks, bonds or Treasury bills -- is still the best and safest investment for a vast majority of U.S. households."
Adds NAHB Vice President Kent Colton: "That was true before Black Monday and it is even truer today."
Well, maybe it is and maybe it isn't.
What is true is that the members of real estate industry have a vested interest in an active housing market and have probably never uttered the words: "This is a real lousy time to buy a house."
However, with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, let's put the housing market up against the stock market.
Let's say that in September 1986 you had $10,000.
Your real estate agent told you to use it as a down payment on a house because "there's never been a better time to buy a house."
Your stockbroker whispered in your other ear, "We're in a bull market ... there's never been a better time to buy stocks."
Which way should you have gone?
In September 1986 the median price of a home, according to the National Association of Realtors, was $80,300. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was about 1900.
Had you rolled your $10,000 into a house, one year later -- in September 1987 -- NAR statistics show the value of your home would have improved about 6 percent to $85,100.
Had you scattered your $10,000 among the Dow Jones industrials, you would have realized growth of more than 34 percent -- turning your $10,000 into $13,400.
Then came the stock plunge. According to NAR stats, the median price of a home in October was a tad lower than the month before, $84,900, giving you a 5.7 percent improvement over 13 months.
If your original $10,000 was still in the stock market, however, you saw your 34 percent increase become a 9.2 percent decrease. Your $10,000 -- which had grown to $13,400 -- had shrunk to $9,080.
It was a good time to buy a house.
So much for how smart you should have been yesterday. Now, what about tomorrow?
In terms of the stock market, the best Wall Street minds don't agree.
Curiously, however, in an unscientific sampling of a few stockbrokers nationwide, not one would recommend gambling the house down payment on a spin in the stock market.
Kent Donley of the Edward D. Jones agency in Olathe, Kan., summed it up: "If you've got two or three years to wait it out, you'll do very well in the stock market. But if you're looking to buy a house in the spring, don't invest now."