HOUSING BUBBLE WATCH….The LA Times reports that the housing bubble in Southern California is all but over:

Six months of gains in Southern California’s median home price were wiped out in January while sales activity dropped sharply, further signs that the region’s once-hot real estate market continues to lose steam.

The statistics, released Wednesday by DataQuick Information Systems, a La Jolla-based real estate research firm, suggest that the market is making a “soft landing” of flattening prices and fewer sales after sizzling gains during the six-year boom, analysts said.

A soft landing is devoutly to be hoped for, and that’s certainly the message I got last week when I started playing around with the intriguing new site Zillow.com, which allows you to check the approximate value of any house in the country. Naturally, I immediately used Zillow to check the value of my own house and then the houses of all my friends, and the results pretty much all looked like the chart on the right: a steep rise, and then flat for the past 4-5 months.

Looking at broader measures (zip codes, cities), I also saw some occasional dips, but for the most part flatness. A year from now I guess we’ll know if that really did portend a “soft landing” or if it was just the calm before the storm.

Zillow.com, by the way, like so many other things on the web, is either fascinating or frightening, depending on your temperament. Just type in your address and you get a satellite picture of your neighborhood showing the approximate value of your house and the approximate value of all your neighbors’ houses as well. Click on “Details” and you can find out what they paid for their house, how big their house is, and so forth. And they can do the same to you. Have fun!

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