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Editorial - May 2002 -CELEBRATE! We Are Three Years old this month


Good Grief we are three years old this month of May

SECOND SHOE DROPS
Anecdotal evidence is pretty much based on what we see or hear going on around us. Gossip plays a part; work and neighbours provide that input and perhaps your local paper or the evening news. We form opinions from this information and so live our lives using those ‘facts’. We buy homes, cars, clothes, holidays based on anticipation of continuance of life being the same or better than it was before. If you have kids, you try to live in a neighbourhood where they’ll make good friends, find a good school and get home safely without being mugged or sold drugs. If you own a car you hope to live in a street that won’t attract vandals. You find that home by instinct and asking around.

At least you did. Now, with rising house prices you try to find anything you can barely afford and cross your fingers the neighbours won’t kill you when you go to sleep at night.
Well anecdotal evidence tells me that the long anticipated correction is on its way. Sure I have been predicting this since Mother Theresa was a young girl, but really, the evidence is coming in faster now.

Right now you’ll look at the stock market and see it is rising again, both here and the USA and you’ll think to yourself, yes all is fine. We have finally recovered from the terror attacks of last year. OK holiday bookings are down apparently, but that means bargains, so that’s fine. It’s a sunny day and there are no clouds on the horizon and where there are clouds, well that’s their problem.

Nevertheless everyone in my immediate circle has just been or about to be laid off or be made redundant. OK many of these people are around 50 so you won’t have any sympathy, but some are in there twenties. I overheard my neighbour yesterday sympathising with a 30 year old man who’d just lost his job at a film company, another who had been made redundant at media company. They live in Woking where Cap Gemini (the French Financial house) is shedding around 20 percent of its staff, where Telewest are shedding more than fifty percent of their staff and could shed the rest soon if things don’t improve for them.
All these people and they total nearly 2000 live in the same town and they all probably have expensive mortgages.

The people I know work in market research or PR or print media and they all know if they haven’t already lost their jobs, the axe is getting closer. I have friends right now playing on-line scrabble in the city with friends in Hammersmith because their offices have nothing to do. Of course they are still getting paid to do nothing, but one day the management will wake up and delete them- for sure. It’s not the office worker’s fault; the work has dried up, that’s all.
More anecdotal evidence? I was in the Halifax Bank today. They are offering mortgages at 3.99%. Two acquaintances told me that they are buying a huge flat together for £300,000. One is borrowing five times his income the other eight times. If they fall out and want to sell, who is to say they can six months down the line? They think they will sell it for £330,000 next May but maybe they won’t be able to sell at all and this mortgage protection clause only lasts for so long if they lose their jobs. What if one loses a job and the other doesn’t. It could get ugly.

All over the UK co-habiting couples and friends are getting themselves into debt like this because they see property as a one way bet, they are all looking for a financial kill. Probably none of them have studied what happened to property after the 1988 bubble burst.
So it does not take a financial genius or a pessimist like me to wonder if Chancellor Brown can keep the balls up in the air forever.
This month, May 2002, the unemployment figure went up by 5000 to just under a million (official figures) – unofficial figures put them at 1.38 million. But these weren’t Tesco jobs or Burger King; these were highly paid media jobs, financial research jobs, engineering jobs. Each job probably has a mortgage attached and with redundancy money they probably think they are OK for a while…

More evidence needed. Well Prime Minister Blair has suddenly warmed to the Euro, after years of procrastination about it. So the pound will start to fall as they pump up the volume for a referendum. Whether the pound stays or goes, it will be damaged by the rhetoric and anticipation. The weaker pound will help exports but drive up inflation and whoops, invite higher interest rates. If you borrowed at five or eight times your income you might not like that. Manufacturers may not like it either, as they will have to lay more people off to cope with cost rises.
I know, it is hard to be so negative on a hot sunny day but there is a lot of evidence to suggest that the UK housing price bubble is as phoney as the dot com bubble of 2000 and doing as much damage to the whole economy. Selling a house in a sudden downtown might turn into a debacle as everyone tries to chase a profit before it vanishes.

More anecdotal evidence?
Bought a new car recently? What do you think it is worth now?
Two and a half years ago I bought a brand new Seat Toledo 1.8 for £14,500. Nice car, fast, goes well, looks good. I just sold it for £6000, best price I could get for a car still under guarantee. No callers despite endless advertisements. 60% loss in 28 months. Regrets. I have a few, but I’m selling in a healthy market. In a downturn and when you might urgently need the money to keep your mortgage going what will your car be worth? House prices have risen but everything else is suffering from incredible deflation. This does not add up anyway that you try it.

Question: How many redundancies does it take in one town to turn a housing market? Woking may be about to find out soon. So might your town. The balloon is looking decidedly saggy.
** Today the gold price is soaring $320 an ounce last time I looked and the pound is falling hard against the Euro. A friend sold their house in two hours in Wimbledon for the asking price this week. They wish they had asked for more. The buyer turned up with cash... Methinks when the crash comes it will be painful, but you say never, the economy is as solid as houses...

THE FUTURE VALUE OF YOUR HOUSE

PPS: The Times newspaper predicted (April 29th) that by 2050 the average price of a home in the UK will be 5 million pounds. This after they predicted the average home would cost £666,000 in 2020. What do they know we don't?
So if you are reading this and want to play a game, try this. What do you think your home will be worth in 2020 and 2050? (Assuming you'll live that long and could care). You need to state where it is and which country.
Now there are things you have to work out here.
1: First of all you have to be able to predict what global warming will do to your property and whether you are in a low lying area or drought stricken area. (Land values can fall too)
2:Then you have to predict the state of the global and local economy in those years, figure out whether you neigbourhood is going up or down (crime figures, industrial pollution, PM10s, that kind of thing) and
political stability in those years, (terrorism, anti-capitalism, immigrant flux).
Hard isn't it. I had a go at looking at a reason not to buy a home last year. Take a look and see what you think, then think about your values. (Things Your Real Estate Agent Doesn't want you to know
)
email me with your predictions: editor hackwriters@yahoo.com


© Sam North May 23rd 2002


CELEBRATING THREE YEARS OF HACKWRITERS

Hackwriters was born in May 1999 to enable writers of all ages all over the whole world to find a place to write about their experiences of travel, or life or work. It had been quite a revelation to discover who finds us, who writes for us and how each month a new set of people discover us and want to contribute. Hackwriters is free, has no sponsor (yes we need one - as an economic model this site makes no sense whatsoever), but we have had over two hundred good, exciting and talented writers contribute, some on a continuing regular basis and some just finding their feet and then disappearing into the ether again.

We have a regular readership now with the occasional spike of interest when someone likes a piece and refers it around. We would like it to be more, but then again, we aren't aiming to rival Slate. (Doesn't British modesty make you weep! - Of course we want more readers!)

Hackwriters has had some surprises on the way. Just last week The national UK newspaper 'The Guardian' ran a piece of ours by Kezia Richmond and last year we won the Skylines Travel Writers of the Year award. With our connection to Lonely Planet, The Times Higher and James Campion's site as well as others, we get readers who do not want travel pieces by journalists whose flight and hotel has been paid for. Our travellers are there on their own resources, they get the guns in the face, or abandoned by rickshaw drivers, they get stung and sometimes they donıt like what they are doing at all. I think James Skinner who has just started a series on Geriatric Cruises would know what I mean. No luxury travel, but quality reporting nevertheless. Our politics is pretty much taken care of by James Campion and Dermot Sullivan, who together will not accept blandishments from any politician. They want the truth, no matter how uncomfortable it may be. Our lifestyles have their followers too. Tabytha Towe has chronicled her young life these past three years and we have seen her grow from a wild and crazy teen to er.. wild and crazy woman and now her Ma Sara Towe has started to write for us bringing a positive outlook to life ­ providing a natural balance to our generally sceptical tone. In three years we have seen the dot-com boom and bust and we are still here. Still broke, but still here.

I read in the Guardian that the average website lasts six weeks! Which may well be because everyone is so obsessed with style, they almost never think about the content. We have zero style and LOADs of content. In fact there are over a thousand articles on Hacks if you could be bothered to hack through the wilderness to read them. Most should be accessible via our archives (which I admit are pretty eccentric). Sometime last year we decided to archive month by month, just as it is, so you get a sense of time and place. One amusing thing is to read older work and see which predictions are wrong (Plenty of mine are absolutely wrong and I am still waiting for this damn recession to arrive) Nevermind, my mistakes as well as everyone elseıs are up there to see. Is this a good thing? In print every month you have a fresh start and mistakes get thrown out with the garbage. No one remembers anything so you can repeat what you like, but on the web everything seems to hang around forever. It makes it harder to change your position on something. (Though we still think Gary Glitter should be taken out to sea and shot).

I want to thank all our contributors for making time, for submitting their work and if you havenıt in a while, well get writing; weıd love to hear from you. This month weıve raided the larder and found two of our original writers to showcase. George Olden is now working at Falmouth College in Cornwall and Esther Loydall has just finished her PGCE and is in fact in her first teaching job, no doubt terrorising her students and they her. Amy Chan has returned with a funny moment when Mick Jagger loomed large in Marrakech, Laal Gadger is new to us and has very funny things to say about teaching English in India. And let's hope Helen Weston and Colin Todhunter continue to write for us as well. We have three writers in Japan at the moment and Mandy Mand (our very first writer) is sending us her wacky diary each month and Brian Wood's exploration of Tokyo district by district. Helen Ruggiere writes on historic Japan.

Hackwriters continues to attract really interesting people such as Zia Zaman who I believe lives in Singapore and Sidi Benzhara who teaches nuclear physics in Arizona. From the anthropologist Angie Eng, to the emerging fiction writers Amy Chan, Johnathan Garner, James Carrey and travel writers Monique Jansen, Mark Bass, Larry Thompson, Dave Rich and Angie Eng we have writers on Hacks living extraordinary lives. There are scores more I havenıt mentioned. Other writers writing their first novels who have allowed us to showcase their first chapters. Thanks to all of them over the last 36 months. Just ask the search engine on the site and almost any topic has been written about and we are always searching for more. If you like what you read this month, tell a friend. If you want know a sponsor with any spare cash, email me. Either way, email us with your stories and opinions. We like to hear from our readers.
May 15th Update:
Now welcome Karel Sloan who has joined us from the Chatam College Creative Writing programme USA . His first pieces on Hacks this month. Landscapes and Arkansas
News this week from Helen Ruggiere who was approached to write about Japan for an international travel magazine - proof positive that Hacks works for aspiring writers.
Many thanks too to Graeme Garvey, Ian Bowie and in particular to James Campion for his continued support - his latest is on Parenting.

PS Want a special vacation try Shark Diving off California
We welcome Claire Hill and many others too who have joined us this May.

All the best and happy reading
Sam North Managing Editor ­ hackwriters.com

© Sam North May 2002 - Editor
PS: A special thanks to George Olden who did the initial designs
as well as past editors Oliver, Stuart, Jaqui, George
Missed the bumper April Issue? Read it here

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