While newspaper ad dollars have been down in the past three or four years, legal advertisements in this newspaper have been pretty consistent. That’s primarily because we get a new wave of foreclosure ads each month.
And Betty Small our legals editor for MainStreet Newspapers forwards me a tally each month. I’ll then run that number in a brief news story, which presents a yearly total and a comparison of the current year versus the previous years. Sadly, we’ve seen those totals skyrocket in Madison County from 150 in 2007 to a projected 458 this year.
Those little news pieces are just impersonal data. Those foreclosure ads are equally impersonal, with the legalese conveying nothing of the trouble breathing a man has at 3 a.m. when he can’t sleep, knowing he’s going to have to tell his daughter to pull her posters off her wall, put her dolls in boxes and move out of her childhood home, because it’s now unaffordable.
I ran another hard numbers story on the front page Oct. 28, an equally impersonal kind of tally. We know the housing bubble burst, but I had not seen actual figures on what the local market looks like now compared to a few years ago. I talked recently with my best friend from high school, Dean Bright, now a real estate agent living in Watkinsville. Naturally, we talk a lot about the housing market. And when he told me he had figures on Madison County, I asked for them.
The picture is really stark. The housing market totaled roughly $36 million in sales in 2007. That’s now down to a projected $18 million this year, based on the first three quarters of 2010. Average home sale prices have plummeted by nearly $30,000. Meanwhile, total land sale dollars this year are just one-seventh of what they were in 2007.
I didn’t run these figures to depress anyone. It just seems important to have a big-picture look at the county’s market, at how bad it really is. I hope I am able to run a similar story next year with numbers that show a sharp spike to the good, something that indicates a turnaround.
Of course, these sad figures stretch their tentacles onto other pages of our paper, like the crime page. It seems like the crime reports are so full of domestic hostility. I know dispatchers have always informed officers of the “10-16” (the domestic dispute) in progress, but such calls seem way more frequent now. The housing crisis is like gasoline beneath the hotheads. Many depressed people seek escape from economic worries through alcohol and drugs, which only makes troubles worse.
Naturally, everyone has their thoughts on blame, on what party, politician or people are to blame for our problems. I have plenty to say on this, too. But I’ll stop myself today.
Let me just say that I think there’s plenty to be discouraged about. But what do you do with that? While politics is the bloody battlefield for the big-picture issues, it’s easy to focus on partisanship and avoid the more immediate battles, like helping the truly needy around us. That help can be financially, but it’s not limited to that. It can be as simple as an unexpected kindness.
One thing is for sure. Those hard numbers in the paper these days say nothing of the hard-luck tales beneath. Yes, the stats tell a story, but they don’t tell your story.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.