“Million Dollar Shack” In Silicon Valley (Video)

This is what’s going on in Silicon Valley and San Francisco, in Housing Bubble 2, crazier than anything before it, dwarfing even the bubble that peaked in San Francisco in November 2007 and then imploded.

In their beautifully made video, “Million Dollar Shack: Trapped in Silicon Valley’s Housing Bubble,” Steve Fyffe and Michelle Joyce show in gripping details how money is washing over the area, the hubris it engenders, the foreign investors who buy homes for investment purposes, renters who get dizzying rent increases and are forced out….

It’s time for people who can’t afford to live here to make room for those who can, says the “real estate rock star” who is prominently and hilariously featured. Worth every minute of it!

To read more bout the film makers Steve Fyffe and Michelle Joyce, check out their site, “Million Dollar Shack: Trapped in Silicon Valley’s Housing Bubble.”

But those few warning of a housing crash are “scaremongers” – And this is now playing out in Australia. Read… Why Mainstream Economists Deny Housing Bubbles Until After They Implode – Which They ALWAYS Do

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  44 comments for ““Million Dollar Shack” In Silicon Valley (Video)

  1. Disc Jockey says:

    I watched this last night and having lived in that area back pre-2009 (I went to SJSU) this doesn’t surprise me one bit. It will be a mess when it falls down and the tragedy is even after the goons will maintain their nonsensical pricing. The then vacant “ghost houses” will sit useless until they collapse. Very sad.

    Also, not to hijack the comments here, but somewhat in the same vein:

    I am a 29 y/o millennial who has been desperately trying to get a leg up after graduating college with what I realize now is a worthless B.A.

    I have no debt, no home, single, and currently live with family after working in various states searching for an employer offering permanent (or as near a thing in this life) employment for the last 5 years.

    Having seen the difficulties of the family shown in this documentary and knowing many my age in similar circumstances I’ve realized I need to wake up. Simple jobs are not going to enable me to survive the coming onslaught. I’m willing to work any hours, anywhere, and at just about any task I’m physically capable of. Any suggestions on growing fields? How do someone even approach the $100,000+ a year mark even after 20-30 years in a job?

    P.S. Great site Wolf, sometimes I feel like I’m going nuts from the propaganda I hear constantly…

    • merlin says:

      DJ – go back to school. My daughter will graduate from 4-yr pharmacy program soon and the average salary is > 100k, first year! But , of course, money is not the key to happiness in this life. If you can find a vocation that pays well and is something you love to do, that would be win-win. I have had a 30+-yr career (mostly work I enjoyed and decent money) but I rarely use the degree I received.

      You should move to Texas (if your politics are correct) for the best economy in the nation even with the oil downturn. :)

      • Dominic says:

        What DJ is talking about it the general condition of our society. The whole “I’ll only worry about myself” mentality is what’s gotten this country into such bad shape. There are more empty homes than homeless people in this country. We are wasting valuable capital of numerous avenues beyond most peoples’ perception. The answers are out there if you have to courage to go against your bias.

      • Lisa says:

        Texas is very affordable and the politics are horrible, but if you look hard enough you’ll find some progressive liberals (mostly people who were raised in other states) who are not right-wing crazy gun nuts, mostly the bigger cities.

    • CrazyCooter says:

      Not sure if you will check back, but at my age in life (border gen x/gen y), given I volunteered, got an engineering degree, and worked through the tech industry starting in the late 90s through present I have one bit of advice based on what you stated.

      You need to find work that is tied to the stuff people will give up only after everything else. To be clear, this is flushing shitters, electricity, food, and things of that nature. Mechanics are up there. You get the idea.

      The next logical step is to figure out how to make a good wage doing it – and that directly implies vocational training (sorry about your degree – but let’s look forward). Degrees today only make sense if you do something along the lines of applied science/engineering/medical/etc and have an actual market with labor demand waiting.


      Let’s walk through a potential option.

      I can tell you from personal experience that linemen and metermen have jobs in EVERY city/town in the US. If you got brains, angle towards commercial or even industrial electrical work. If you want to work outdoors and want less technical aspects, be a lineman. These jobs are hard, dangerous, and people get injured and die. This is NOT a cakewalk.

      There are vocational schools out there for lineman type stuff, often times less than 2 years, where you are in/out, study only what you will apply in the field, and have a real job waiting for you because of LABOR DEMAND.

      LABOR DEMAND IS THE THING YOU NEED TO STUDY (3 times is a charm, right?), so let’s head over to http://www.indeed.com and follow their job salary/posting stats (i.e. let’s do our homework looking at actual job openings and trends).


      Openings Trends

      Can you find other job sites with similar tools and corroborate or disprove? Do some serious homework! You are investing your time, money, and future! Stay focused on meaningful, useful, productive jobs and stay away from the FIRE (Finanance/Insurance/Real Estate) type stuff.

      I use this specific example because I live in Alaska and we regularly bring on well paid men in the summer months (seasonal) who work tons of hours at union wages when days are long. Maybe these jobs are not so good in other places, but up here these guys make bank wages and I think most men can play ball if they got some brains and work ethic.

      Best of luck.



      • Disc Jockey says:

        Thanks for the responses guys…given me quite a bit to think about.

        I have started to seriously think that technical skills are going to be the way to go going forward.

  2. Petunia says:

    I can already see rent control coming to Florida. I read that just one of the big corporate owners owns 200K houses. With stories claiming rents are rising 10% a year and with nobody getting any raises, it is inevitable.

  3. Michael says:

    Disc Jockey,

    If you are somewhat good with your hands go into a trade say plumber or electrician. You will have to train but it will be worth it. They cannot outsource those jobs and many of these businesses are hiring and training because few your age want to get their hands dirty.

  4. forced to move out says:

    Jamaica Plain, Ma. is right behind them.

  5. MC says:

    A question for Mr Richter and everybody else from the Bay Area: is the real estate rock star for real? I mean… I lived briefly in California and, even for the crazy standards of your State, he seems more than a little over the top. Surely he’s a friend of the filmakers playing a part.

    And a little warning: around here only real estate agents used to drive around in Bentley’s, so much seeing one in the area meant somebody had put his or her house up for sale. Since 2009 I haven’t seen a single Bentley around. Real estate agents now drive incospicuous, ordinary-looking cars.
    And until the same year I got at least two calls a month from real estate agencies asking me if I had any intention of selling my house since they had buyers interested in houses in my area, never mind the fact I had just moved in. Now nobody calls anymore and there’s a glut of much nicer houses than mine up for sale with no buyers. The only one that sold recently went for 60% the asking price and it’s going to be turned from a single family to a two families house.

    And another thing: once upon a time big firms built housing for their employees they usually rented out at very favorable rates. How long before Google and Apple will be forced to do so because even their people making 400,000 a year cannot afford a house?

    • Wolf Richter says:

      The name looks real to me. The Rolls was real, as was the espresso bar in the driveway. They might have been separate items, who knows… But here’s the thing: I hear similar stuff ALL THE TIME. That kind of language and attitude is the new normal in the Bay Area – at least among some folks.

      • MC says:

        OK, I guess I’ll steer clear of the Bay Area for a little while longer, at least until the craziest stuff has evaporated.

      • Mike G says:

        That is reality in the bay area now and years back from the last two bubbles. With the high price of homes comes the self entitlement for being in the right place at the right time. Bay area prices have always been super high and then crashes. My opinion is that the greed comes from these agents and brokers who stir the pot so to speak so that homes jump in prices and homeowners feel their sitting on a pot of gold. Too bad a house is not a real liquid asset, its a necessity like gas and food. Use it as a commodity like a stock and your in for a roller coast ride.

    • Duke C. says:

      I think he’s authentic; actually, he doesn’t stand out in any way (here in the Valley). What’s the big deal of driving a Bentley or a Rolls here in the Valley? Think about it this way: he gets 3% of each transaction. If he intermediates 12 transactions per year (either buying or selling a house), at about $2 million each, that’s $720k, before taxes. Now, since he’s a top agent, his transactions (like the Los Altos one showcased in the video) are more likely around $5-10 million each… you do the math.

      That’s another problem with rising house prices: it makes only real estate agents and the government rich. Even for a crappy shack, taxes are typically around $15k/year…

    • Lynn S. says:

      I assure you, the “rockstar” real estate figure is all too real. I drive past his business on El Camino Real every day and curse him. He intentionally markets to Chinese nationals as a way to gain access to citizenship – the American dream, etc. At the expense of his neighbors and community who need housing to remain part of the community. I gave up my housing search last year and still rent.

      I was surprised at how much self-awareness he lacks. To actually talk about IQ going up in a neighborhood and that being such a good thing is elitist and speaks to why he is a menace to our society and not a rockstar at all. A villain in my view. What a sociopathic narcissist.

  6. interesting says:

    “The then vacant ‘ghost houses’ will sit useless until they collapse”

    not likely, like last time the bank will probably let the home owner stay for months if not years without making a payment, that way the value doesn’t change and the bank doesn’t take a loss.

    “say plumber or electrician”

    that’s mostly done by Hispanics and illegals willing to work for far less (i know a plumber who got the “F” out of socal for this very reason and the one to follow) now here in socal AND if he did go into these “professions” he best learn Spanish first or he won’t be able to communicate with most of his customers.

    back to the video, i found it un-watchable due to the slimy realtor and when he said that home prices in the bay area will double in the next ten years i couldn’t take it anymore. I wonder if anyone will follow up on that claim, but it won’t matter. If reality ever comes back to that market and one were to question that realtors comment and/or motive his reply will be the tried and true “nobody could have seen this coming”

  7. Bill says:

    Yo, Ken, you Rolls Royce driving rich guy realtor. What’s your elevated educational requirement? Got your PHD yet? Broker this my fancy boy; your transactional bullshit lifestyle hubris will follow you to your grave.
    What client wouldn’t you serve?

  8. chhelo says:

    I wish I had an old Cruise Ship. Anchor in the harbor and have shuttles to run renters/owners back and forth.

    • Lynn S. says:

      Hah. I know someone who lives on a ship in the SF bay that rents out many rooms. It’s docked, but I don’t think it’s legal. Off shore is a great idea. Just call it a “startup” and you can get away with anything here.

  9. Kreditanstalt says:

    The video is intent on blaming foreign money but misses the real cause of these prices: ongoing expansion of the supply of money and credit. Would all these no-revenue, zombie business model tech companies have the “wealth” they do without ZIRP?

    Whether that credit expansion inflates incomes and “wealth” in China or in the US makes no difference…except that the new money is, as usual, enticed into speculative assets…in this case, housing.

    The video should have looked FURTHER.

  10. Petunia says:

    If I owned a $2M shack in CA, I would sell it and more on. With $2M in the bank you can live well in many places and take your time looking for a new job. This is an easy decision.

  11. Brent says:

    John Templeton said to buy property in former bubble areas when prices drop to 1\10 of the previous bubble prices. Wise words from someone who has seen it all.

  12. NY Geezer says:

    This housing phenomenon is grounded on at least 2 things that appear illegal:
    1) The ability of corporations to avoid paying taxes via tax avoidance schemes that smell of illegality. This is absolutely essential as it provides the cash flow necessary for very the high incomes that encourage some tech workers and perhaps some others to jump on the real estate bubble and believe the hype, and
    2) The ability of many Chinese elite to obtain large amounts of cash in a manner that is so dubious that they can’t keep it in China and must stash it in what to them appears to be a relatively safe place. They show no indicia of being people who have worked for their money. Rather they act more like people who are hiding their ill gotten gains.

    I wonder what would happen to this and other bubbles if the US ever ceased to be so soft on the crimes of the elite?

    • CrazyCooter says:

      The National Association of Realtors (NAR) lobbied Congress (successfully) for exclusions with regards to money laundering. That is to plainly say that a known Colombian Cocaine Drug Lord could buy all the RE in the US he wants and Uncle Sam doesn’t care (he would still be in trouble for his drug trafficking though).

      They just don’t care where the money comes from when you buy a house in the US these days, so long as the check cashes.

      Welcome to the recovery!



  13. Philo says:

    A great video Wolf. I grew up in the Bay Area, and prices are truly out of control.

    DJ: Have you considered the military? I’m in a similar boat. My BA is useless (English from UC Berkeley.) I am a single white male, early 40’s, ex-military, almost no debt, currently renting, and willing to do almost any decent paying job.

    I moved to the Sacramento area in 2008 for a job. That job went away and I fell back on restaurant work…bartending and waiting tables. It got me through the rough times, but I’m still stuck in restaurants.

    The Sac job market is atrocious, unless you want to make $11 or less per hour. I’ve listened to the whole “learn a trade” argument. I recently went to the Plumber/Pipe fitter union and took their test. The representative said it was the highest score he’s ever seen. Still haven’t been hired though…and that’s for a five year apprenticeship. It seems not many employers want to pay for union wages.

    Not really sure which direction to take. I’ve been applying like mad to government jobs and never get a call back…I guess I don’t have what they’re looking for.

    Good luck in your search.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Philo, do you know how to tell a complex financial, business, or economic story in an interesting, insightful, and perhaps even entertaining manner? If yes, contact me via the “Contact” tab on this site.

    • CrazyCooter says:

      The state (Alaska) has money issues, and the cost of living ain’t cheap, but you might be able to get a gig doing various admin/legal/court type stuff depending on your resume.


      Don’t move up in a car (buy one when you get here/sell if you leave – its 1k minimum one way for a car/truck). Ship your stuff by barge or USPS if you got more than what you can run through the airport (Alaska Marine Lines – AML).

      If you move to Juneau, look me up. I will buy you a beer. :-)



    • night-train says:

      Many government agencies have had to cut positions since the downturn through cuts and attrition. Many states and Feds have a veteran’s preference that would give you an advantage in hiring and in some cases, promotions. My experience is that vets do well in government, as the operating and management style is more or less akin to the military. Keep trying. Government service has been dissed a lot in recent times, but we need good people making careers there.

    • Jack says:


      With your BA in English, and presumably you can communicate with people in a professional manner, you ought to get a real estate license and join that gold rush.

  14. Duke C. says:

    I’m one of those ‘techies’ mentioned in the video (I am a senior software engineer at Google). Despite making a ton of money, I still rent, and the hope of ever being able to buy a house for my family here, in the Valley, is fading more and more with each day. The more I save, the less I can afford. It only keeps getting worse.
    On top of this, my rent has recently been increased by $500/month, so I decided to move. Even so, every other paycheck pays the rent, and, since my wife can’t work, things are not that great. I can only imagine how tough it is for lower middle-income families…

    Here’s the hard truth: if you’re a ‘techie’ here in the Valley, but you’re not part of a (successful) IPO, or not in upper management, you’re only a day worker, just the the day workers who built the shitty houses that are ubiquitous all over this Valley (let’s not forget that, before high-tech, this was all orchards and farms).

    One day, I’ll have to pack and leave California. It’s getting absurdly expensive to live here, incomes are stagnant (since there’ no new Facebook poaching engineers, there’s no incentive anymore to raise salaries to today’s high-tech day workers), taxes are high, schools are crap, roads are congested and unsafe, and the list can continue forever…

    • Lynn S. says:

      I hear you. Totally crappy houses for sure. Offensive even.

      It’s a matter of WHEN we move out and not IF we move out. You can live (relatively) well in the bay area in a crappy apartment if you’re lucky and it’s semi-rent controlled (i.e. only goes up 6% a year). There is extra money to spend on pricey food, travel, stuff – but you can’t save enough to buy a home here at the current rate of price increases – certainly not buy anything you actually want for all the long hours and education you’ve put in to earn the money (we’re talking phd in STEM field in the household).

      Maybe deleon is right – and prices will double like they’re a stock value. I doubt it. Maybe we’ll be too late to exodus and the new places will all be pricey too – don’t know. I just seems out of control and like we NEED REGULATION to put housing in the hands of locals and heavily tax and restrict investment properties/second properties/foreign owned properties. For the good of our own communities and future.

      I do think engineers can still get poached by new startup offers. Trouble is many of those companies aren’t managed well and people leave them. It is still really competitive at FB, Google for all of the claim of needing so many engineers in SV. I suspect 80% of the Stanford grads in CS stay in the area each year for jobs so you have a constant supply of high level intro talent to the field from that school alone. They’re young and don’t have much to lose by living in a room in a house since they have few other responsibilities. The pay is good enough for them to have plenty of party/travel money so it works for a few years.

  15. Philo says:

    Thanks for all of the replies, Cooter, Night-Train…good advice in there.

  16. TexasReady says:

    DONE THE RIGHT WAY buying Real Estate covers opposite worst-case scenarios. It is either a great hedge against inflation or it will give you a place to live/time-to-rebound if recession/deflation/depression hits as hard as many of us on this board predict.

    Of course, I don’t think there is any “right way” to buy real estate in over-priced and totally insane areas like in this video, or on most of the rest of the West and East coasts, or in Las Vegas and Phoenix (due to water issues).

    Pardon my bias, but having lived in Toronto, Florida and New Jersey/NYC, you need to vote with your feet and move somewhere where you (and hopefully your children) can afford to have a LIFE. Which doesn’t mean commuting 2-4 hours per day and/or paying 50+% of your income in rent/house payments.

    If you are renting now, “the right way” means:
    1) don’t get greedy (REPEAT 10 TIMES = DON’T GET GREEDY),
    2) don’t listen to the banks/realtors/loan sharks telling you the ridiculous amounts you can “afford”,
    3) don’t try to keep up with the outward projections of others,
    4) given the likelihood of at least a recession in the near future, definitely don’t buy more house than you “MINIMALLY NEED”,

    … just buy a house:
    • whose payment is LESS THAN what you would pay for rent
    • with an all-in 15-year-fixed mortgage payment of NO MORE THAN 20-25% of your gross monthly income

    If appreciation comes, thank God. If it doesn’t, then you still win because you are paying off your house.

    Of course, if you really anticipate a crash, then get an FHA loan with the minimum 3.5% down. Keep the rest of your down payment for liquidity, protection against the unknown, and for buying opportunities at the bottom.

    Here in Texas owning a home makes so much more sense than renting. First of all, the equity in your home is protected 100% against creditors. Plus, in the last downturn you could live in a house a minimum of 5 months without payments (and up to 9-12 months with workouts) before being foreclosed upon. Renting leaves you totally exposed to creditors and evictions for non-payment of rent are a LOT faster.

    If you are already fortunate enough to own your home, then pay off all other debt, SAVE MONEY every way you can, do your due-diligence, and buy a “BLUE-COLLAR-AREA” rental house. DO NOT BUY in a slum, but don’t be scared of where the 40%+ of lower-middle-class people live. DO NOT BUY anything without at least a 12-18% cash-on-cash ROI (given a 20-25% down payment and a 15-year loan). If that doesn’t exist in your area, THEN BE PATIENT, SAVE MONEY and wait for the next downturn. DO NOT OVERPAY. REPEAT = YOU MUST MAKE MONEY ON THE BUY… DO NOT OVERPAY.

    As we have all seen, the market value of all houses can go down, but these types of houses won’t go anywhere close to zero, you aren’t at the mercy of the wall street mafia, there aren’t margin calls, there is always rental demand since you (or your renters) have to live somewhere, and the value of a “blue-collar-area” house “rubber-bands” back quite quickly after a downturn.

    If things really tank your house (whether you own or it’s a rental) is in a great position for people to downsize to or double-up in. Not many people can “downsize” into a $1mm or $2mm house, or even a $350k-$700k house. But lots of people will be interested in a $80-$120k house going for an $800-$1200/month rent/mortgage payment. Or renting a bedroom (not a tent) for $400/month.

    BTW, I am NOT a Realtor, I am NOT trying to “sell” anybody anything, and I practice what I preach.

    • NoRE-4-Me says:

      I’m not sure the Real Estate game is going to play out the same way it has for the past 50 years. There are many factors that will either allow it to continue or collapse in on itself.

      For example, with many states not being able to keep up with their debt load, when will this burden be dropped onto the tax payer? Can you afford the doubling on your property tax? A friend of mine has had two fire related billls added onto his property tax. I remember the city where I live started adding a tax on to the electricity bill. It used to be property tax in CA was ~1%, most counties are closer to 1.75%.

      The alternative is to share resources, lower expenses, move to other options. There are other reasonable options around the world that you can live for $600 a month. Sure its not CA, but there are options.

      The influx of “illegal” H1Bs (yes illegal since none of the companies are following the hiring rules), is causing property values in the Bay Area to continue to climb. As long as the jobs are here the prices will stay high. Which as mentioned is partially cheap money and the fact the government is buying so much software.

    • Discgman says:

      You say renters dont be greedy Duke, but when you own a few rentals and try to purchase another one. The banks will demand that you are renting your other units at “Market” rates. Which ever crazy rate it is at the time needs to be there. And they want proof that the renters are paying that rate or they will deny you another loan. Crazy in cali.

  17. Rene Teel says:

    Just watched the video and am amazed. On the other hand I vacationed in Napa this summer and out of curiosity looked at local real estate and found condos and small houses in the 300k – 450k with yards. While it’s true Texas is cheaper. I own 2 condos in Houston, sold a house recently in Dallas and own one in Austin. I can tell you a lot about Texas real estate.
    I bought a condo in River Oaks in Jan of 2012 for my son to live in. We are being forced to sell it as we were outvoted. I paid 58K I will get about 200k for it. There are few condos in the area for $200K. The prices here have skyrocketed. In inner city Houston at leat 25+ neighborhoods the average house price is over a million. My other condo By the galleria I bought in 2013. The first 24 hours 30 people viewed it. I paid $5000 over ask – now this same condo 2 years later sells for 50% more.
    Now Austin. My house is in South Austin under a mile to Zilker Park and less then 2 miles to downtown. I bought in 2013 and felt it was expensive but really wanted to be in the neighborhood. Boy was I wrong. This year they built the HGTV Smart home next door (I got a new fence :). They valued it at $800k. It was just sold by the winner for over a million. The house on the other side of me recently sold for $800K and they tore it down. These are not mansions. They are not allowed to be especially close to Zilker. They are 2K sq feet. With tiny yards. Crappy little homes with long commutes now costs about 300K which was unheard of a few years ago.
    What’s my point? If you’re coming to Texas for cheap places that ship has sailed. Who bid all these places up? People fleeing New York and California. Thanks ya’ll, but I’ll try to remember my upbringing and try to be friendly and neighborly.

    • Lynn S. says:

      Sounds like you should be thanking the NYC and California influx – your property value increased dramatically. Financially you gained a lot. Also, Texas is TRYING to lure companies and low paying jobs in by “stealing” them from other states through giveaways like no taxes. So it’s your leadership’s choices that created the situation whether you like it or don’t.

      We turned down a job in Houston two years ago because we saw the housing prices were rising quickly, the pay offered was LOW and without housing regulation, nothing prevented a trash dump or gas station from moving in next door. Not to mention mosquitoes and heat.

  18. tech98 says:

    I thought Palo Alto was ridiculously overpriced in the late 80s when my parents moved there while I was away at college. Fortunately they rented a modest tract house from friends at below-market rates; the kind that were build by the thousands in the 60s and sold for about $20k new. It would have cost $350k to buy which I found incredible at the time. Today Zillow estimates it is worth $2.2m.

  19. Valley Val says:

    When the white upper middle class replace the traditionally latino/black neighborhood, it’s cold “gentrification.”

    When the rich Asians replace the traditionally white upper middle class neighborhood, it’s called “a middle class tragedy/crisis.”

    • Wolf Richter says:

      But wait … long-time residents of Oakland or of the Mission (SF), for example, are now also using “gentrification” in the sense of “tragedy/crisis.” I hear it more and more – on the radio even. And in SF, there was a proposition on the ballot yesterday that was trying to deal with it (“No” prevailed). “Gentrification” doesn’t have a great connotation around here.

  20. Natalie says:

    I really have no words for how sad this video makes me. It makes me sick. SICK.

    It is a sad state in America today when tax paying US citizens cannot secure safe and decent housing for their families. If you make 200k per year and you cannot secure a decent place to live, either to rent or buy…


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