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Opinion: Bad ads, real estate

Locations: Columns, Opinion Published

A house in our neighborhood is for sale. It has been advertised in one of the Aspen newspapers and attracted attention from a newspaper headquartered 5,000 miles away — with 1.1 million online and print global subscribers. “Rocky Mountain high prices: homebuyers priced out of Aspen head to Basalt,” read the article’s front-page headline. 

The story included a buyer’s guide and map showing the proximity to Aspen of lesser-known locales besides Basalt; Carbondale, Missouri Heights, Willits (though not El Jebel) got big play as places for bargain hunters to find first, second, or third homes starting at $3 million. The house in our subdivision, listed at more than twice the price of the last one that sold here 18 months ago, is one of these.

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The global newspaper article does note that home ownership is unaffordable for fulltime Roaring Fork Valley residents like teachers, police, firefighters, plumbers, grocery store employees, journalists, childcare and health workers, and quotes a few of those affected. It leaves out facts about long commutes, increased traffic accidents and pollution that are calculable byproducts of driving great distances to work for businesses and homeowners, many of us citing our environmental bona fides for moving here.

Yet, the attitude conveyed by this article is like that of a newspaper story focused on the pleasures of smoking cigarettes — with, for journalistic balance, a casual aside about cancer — that spotlights where to buy them more cheaply. Responsible publications don’t run stories like that. Nor do they run cigarette ads without health warnings anymore. In mountain communities it’s time for social warnings to be included in real estate ads for properties priced out of reach of the local workforce.

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Real estate infomercials that pose as news stories like the one mentioned here, as well as newspapers that rely on hefty real estate ad revenues, are not responsible for the shortage of affordable housing that is a problem all over the world. There are many causes, requiring layered solutions befitting a community’s unique situation. 

In the Roaring Fork Valley, the priced-out trend “has been going on for many years,” says Basalt Mayor Bill Kane. “I believe that our housing and land use regulatory strategies are the correct steps to mitigate the impact,” he wrote in an email to me, saying that Basalt officials will be discussing the possible effects of this recent article with its international marketing outreach.

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There are steps that news organizations and real estate firms that wield too much financial power over them, can also take. Here’s another headline, this one from The Aspen Times: “Sales of ultra high-end homes shape Aspen real estate market; another $3 billion year in sight.” Three billion dollars generates a lot of real estate commissions and ad revenues.

While the amount of high-end real estate advertising in newspapers might raise questions about undue influence over editorial matters, real estate firms and their top agents need not bother. Their message comes across in their outsized presence in newsprint, on television and in digital displays at the Aspen Airport. There are only so many times $30 million homes can be advertised before the ones for $3 million, 25 miles downvalley, look like a steal.

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 “Advertising Works,” crows the blurb that Colorado Mountain News Media (CMNM) runs in mountain resort newspapers owned by parent company Swift Communications. Advertising works, but for whom? For real estate agents and their firms. Advertising works for newspapers selling real estate ads that make no mention in the ads themselves of massive economic dislocations that trickle down — no, pour down — from homes priced in the mega millions.

Advertising has worked for Swift, which on Dec. 31 will cease journalism operations, having sold its media properties to a much larger newspaper corporation for an undisclosed amount. Swift will become Questor Corporation and enter the commercial real estate sector.

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Real estate ads that market palaces with pristine views of public lands, and newspapers that run these full-page fairytale visions, can take some responsibility. Just as developers are required to include a percentage of rent-capped and deed-restricted housing in their free market projects, a similar requirement ought to be attached to real estate sales commissions, and ad revenues.

People can still smoke, but every pack informs smokers of the health hazards, as do their ads. A percentage of newspaper ad revenues and real estate commissions could go into a private sector fund that contributes to affordable housing. Identifying social hazards in the newspaper ads targeting the world’s big real estate spenders opens a new conversation about housing equity.

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Because advertising works.

Tags: #advertising #Dyana Z. Furmansky #housing #Real estate #Slug It
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