A side of real estate with your entree? | AspenTimes.com

A side of real estate with your entree?

Andy Stone
Aspen, CO Colorado

I was reading a story the other day about how things were so bad in the real-estate market in one middle American town that the local real-estate agents had to find second jobs.

One woman took on part-time work as a waitress.

So, in the rest of the world, Realtors are becoming waitresses, while here in the Roaring Fork Valley all the waitresses are Realtors. They don’t ask if you want dessert, they ask if you want a nice $10 million teardown. They’re not trying to sell you Tuscan wines, they’re more interested in selling you a pseudo-Tuscan villa.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have anything against waitresses making a couple of million dollars selling real estate on the side. Although I do have to point out that the same market forces that allow one waitress in a million to make a million on real estate are also forcing all the rest of the waitresses to live in Silt because they can’t afford decent housing in the kind of town where waitresses make millions selling real estate.

But never mind that.

This is the land of free-market capitalism, and why would anyone accept a “fries with that?” future when there are millions to be made with a little career diversification.

I was in one of my favorite midvalley towns the other day, and a friend was pointing out a series of downtown properties that had been snapped up by a local architect who has big plans for that little town.

And it made me realize that waitresses aren’t the only people who are trying to make a killing in real estate on the side.

Of course, the connection between architects and real-estate development isn’t as tenuous as the leap from “Do you want ranch dressing?” to “Do you want a ranch?”

But, still, once upon a time (which is how all good fairy tales begin), architects designed buildings. They were artists of a kind, dedicated to creating beautiful ” or at least functional ” buildings.

But anyone sharp enough to design a building is certainly sharp enough to notice that someone is making millions of dollars on that building.

Someone who is not the architect.

Someone who (the architect is sure) can’t possibly be half as bright as the architect. And the architect who once proclaimed “Less is more” now decides that “More is more” ” and he figures that more ought to be deposited in his bank account.

So the architect joins the waitress in the real-estate hustle.

And then, of course, there are the lawyers.

Once upon a time (here comes another fairy tale), lawyers were dedicated to taking part in the honorable process of ensuring justice for all.

Or chasing ambulances, as the case may be.

But somewhere along the way (perhaps after a bad knee injury, caused by tripping over an orphan while chasing an ambulance), our friend the lawyer gets into real-estate law. And he realizes that writing contracts that guarantee millions of dollars to developers (who, of course, aren’t nearly as sharp ” or ruthless ” as the lawyer himself) isn’t nearly as much fun as writing contracts that funnel all that money into his own pockets.

And so the lawyer joins the waitress and the architect in the real-estate hustle.

Now I ask you to stop for a moment and consider that chilling thought: lawyer turned developer. It’s about as distressing as … oh, python turned baby-sitter.

Sure, you’d know where your baby was ” but it wouldn’t do you much good.

And with a lawyer-turned-developer, you’ll know where your land-use code is ” but it won’t do you much good.

Ah, but that’s the way of nature: Fish gotta swim. Birds gotta fly. Pythons gotta devour. And lawyers … well, I guess they gotta devour, too. (In a no-holds-barred cage match, my money’s on the python ” but just barely. Heck, the snake’d probably show a little professional courtesy and let the lawyer slither through the bars.)

So anyway, we have architects, lawyers and waitresses all chasing the real estate jackpot.

Which is fine for them, of course. But it doesn’t do much for me if I need someone to design a house. Or chase down an ambulance. Or bring me a cheeseburger.

Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind anyone making millions of dollars in their spare time. I’m happy for them ” particularly the waitresses. Anyone who spends her life working for tips deserves whatever extra cash she can find. And the commission on that $25 million Tuscan villa is a nice little addition to the tip jar.

But we all need to remember that this can’t go on forever.

As I suggested a few weeks ago, sooner or later the bubble has to burst. Or at least sag a little bit. And what happens then?

The lawyers ” bad knees and all ” will have to go back on ambulance patrol. And the waitresses will suddenly see a grim future ahead of them: fallen arches at the Golden Arches, an endless chain of cheeseburgers stretching out into the sunset.

And the architects? They maybe have the grimmest post-crash future of all ” because the architecture business will run dry when the development business runs dry, and they won’t have anything to fall back on.

They might wind up flipping the cheeseburgers those waitresses are serving.