Too many homebuyers, lured by sleek advertising and media-generated hoopla, buy properties that they can rationally ill-afford, given their financial background and potential. However, their eyes are usually centered in to a future where they expect to sell their newly-acquired properties at huge profits, while allowing rentals to pay for their EMIs. However, when prices drop, buyers get financially battered and in worse cases even completely wiped out.
Human beings have a congenitally designed to not learn from the past. During a bubble, people don't believe that prices will fall, even though it has been proven wrong so many times before.
Another indicator of a bubble is the unbridled bidding for worthless land.
At the peak, an empty three-square-meter parcel (about 32 square feet) in a corner of the Ginza shopping district in Tokyo sold for $600,000, even though it was too small to build on.
Prices were highest here in 1989, with some fetching over $1.5 million per square meter ($139,000 per square foot), and only slightly less in other areas of Tokyo. Plots only slightly larger gave birth to bizarre structures known as pencil buildings: tall, thin structures that often had just one small room per floor. Such structures later become reminders of a different era, like the aftermath of a boisterous party.
Another indicator of a bubble is the acute scarcity of affordable housing. In Japan too, during the housing bubble, the focus was only on building commercial property and luxury apartments. In India too, currently, especially within the city limits of Mumbai, a standard 2-bed room apartments cost no less than Rs 1 crore.
By 2004, a prime “A” property in Tokyo's financial districts were less than 1/100th of their peak, and Tokyo’'s residential homes were 1/10th of their peak, and even at this time they were considered to be listed as the most expensive real estate in the world. At the end of the Japanese housing bubble, some $20 trillion (1999 dollars) was wiped out with the combined collapse of the real estate market and the Tokyo stock market.
Read next story in this series: Mad Rush for Home Loans and Huge Debt
This article has been developed from the October 2005 issues of the New York Times. You can read it here