News item: Home prices soar again. Shoeboxes are going for 300 grand as long as they're in Chevy Chase, Bethesda and other close-in burbs with good reputations.
My first thought was that this is some real estate agent's fantasy. Sure, sellers are asking those stratospheric sums. But are they getting them?
A friend who sells real estate in Chevy Chase and Bethesda assures me that the answer is yes.
And get this: My friend says buyers are not moaning about paying that much. They're begging to pay that much.
More than half the houses sold in Chevy Chase and Bethesda never are shown and never have a FOR SALE sign stuck in the front lawn, my friend says -- because they're snarfed up the second they're listed in the city-wide computer. "People who own in Chevy Chase and Bethesda think they're good for a 10 percent increase in the value of their house every single year, no matter what the economy is doing," says my friend. "And so far, they're right."
Once I caught my breath, I asked where these buyers -- many of them young couples -- are getting the money to buy these homes.
"The Mom and Pop National Bank," my friend said. "There isn't a single young couple I know who can get into these kinds of deals without a loan of $100,000 or $200,000 from their parents."
So don't fret, Moms and Dads. If they have their eyes on Chevy Chase or Bethesda, your kids will religiously call once a week to see how you are. After all, you're the vault of last resort.
News item: Baseball in Washington is still a possibility for 1987. The Chicago White Sox, Houston Astros, San Francisco Giants are seen as the teams most likely to move here.
Yeah, right. And last year it was the Pittsburgh Pirates. And two years ago it was the Oakland Athletics. And back in the 1970s it was the San Diego Padres. The next pipe dream you'll hear is that the Redskins have decided to play football in the fall and baseball in the summer.
Washington has a greater capacity for self-generated disappointment than any city I know. Can't we -- of all cities -- tell a political ploy when we see one?
The White Sox, Astros and Giants (and all the other would-be movers before them) are merely hoisting trial balloons to get their local business communities frightened. Once every car dealership and Lions Club in Chicago, Houston and SF has bought up all the unsold season tickets, Washington will be as close to getting a team as we've been for the last 15 years: not close at all.
I've always been sure we'd get another baseball team some day. Our population and affluence are too great to ignore. But we'll get the team that simply packs its bags and hops a plane, not the team that tries to generate headlines (and ticket sales) so that it can more profitably stay put.
News item: Procter & Gamble promotes two executives. The New York Times seeks to interview either or both. "We don't make people available to talk about their new jobs," a company spokesman is quoted as saying.
Pretty high-hatted, P&G -- and pretty typical. So many companies (and boys' clubs, and politicians, and what-have-yous) think that the way to avoid bad publicity is to avoid all publicity. "If we don't produce the people for them to interview, then they can't put words in their mouths and mangle the truth," the thought goes.
But it's exactly the other way around. I've been in the newspaper game for nearly a quarter of a century, and I've never seen anyone significantly damaged by telling the whole truth to a reporter. If you make a reporter guess, he or she will guess wrong at least some of the time. If you make guesses unnecessary, the percentage of errors goes down -- and may go away.
News item: Fairfax County School Superintendent Robert R. Spillane gets a raise from the School Board. He now earns $90,000 a year, plus a $10,000 annuity. Nobody on the board offers any objection.
What a breath of fresh air!
So often, a top public official will get a big raise, and some pol who hasn't been on the 6 O'Clock News in the last three days will raise a stink. "That money should go to build new highways," he'll fulminate. Or: "That money should go to pay teachers, not superintendents."
What Mr. 6 O'Clock News is forgetting is that effective leadership in the public sector is tough to come by. When we've got it, as we plainly do with Robert Spillane in Fairfax, we had jolly well better pay top dollar for it, or we'll lose it.
It's not as if we're pouring $100,000 a year down the sewer. We're paying it to a guy who could command at least as much in the business world and who would leave the Fairfax schools in much worse shape if he quit.
Yes, money should go for highways. Certainly, teachers should make more money, too. But let's not lose sight of the value we're getting for the salaries we pay the likes of Spillane. It's considerable.