Monday, March 21, 2011

Digital Living vs. Housing

I recently started on the work of rebuilding my web pages. As I was going through the current elements of my web site, I stopped to look at this picture. On my “home” page, it serves as a heavily filtered photo of my house.

In reality, the house in the photo isn’t my house. It’s just a photo I picked to represent the idea of my house. If you knew me personally, you could easily imagine that I lived in an old mill house on a pond with a spillway. That’s part of the reason I picked this house — it fits my personal image better than a photo of my actual house would.

As I redesign my web site, I may keep this picture, or I may pick a different one. But what I won’t do is use a photo of my actual house, which is on a hill that doesn’t permit any favorable camera angles.

Photos and 3-D models are easier than ever. Actual houses are still difficult. This means you can be seen with your dream house while actually living somewhere more practical.

I remember noticing this possibility years ago while watching MTV Cribs. Some of the houses featured in the show, I began to suspect, were flipped — they were purchased and decorated just in time for the TV show, then sold less than a year later. The rock star owners really did live in the houses, but not necessarily for very long. Television aside, flipping is one of the reasons rock stars move so often. The fact that a rock star lived in a house can boost the house’s market value. If the house was purchased well, it can be sold for a small profit. The buyer is buying a story along with the real estate, and doesn’t have to tell everyone that the star lived there only for a few months.

Now that social networking has become an electronic art form, anyone can have a fantasy digital lifestyle, and tens of millions of people do, finding ways to look far more glamorous on-screen than they are in real life.

I believe this trend is not just a curiosity. If your friends see your fantasy life more often than they see your real life, it is no longer so important to buy the real stuff. A house was once the most important status symbol you could have, but if your status is updated minute-by-minute online, the house is no longer so important in identifying who you are.

I wouldn’t care to guess how far the digital living trend can go before it starts to reverse, but I haven’t seen any indication of it slowing down anytime soon. This has implications for the sales of real stuff, especially houses. It is just one more reason why demand for housing may not bounce back anytime soon.