Let me start by asking which you’d prefer:
- A 10% raise?
- A 3% raise?
If you’re like almost everyone, the answer is hands down #1. But let me re-phrase the question a bit. Which would you prefer?
- A 10% raise in 1980?
- A 3% raise in 2009?
Is your answer still the same? I bet you think it’s a trick question because I added a year to the options. You’re right, it IS a trick question! The years 1980 and 2009 are special. Can you guess why? 1980 is very well known for having a very high inflation rate whereas 2009 is known for being a deflationary year (a year where the inflation rate is negative). In 1980 the inflation rate was 13.5% whereas in 2009 it was -0.4%. Having brought this new information to light, is your answer still the same?
In other words, which do you prefer:
- 10% raise at 13.5% inflation in 1980 = a real -3.5% raise in terms of purchasing power
- 3% raise at -0.4% inflation in 2009 = a real 3.4% raise!
Looking at the numbers adjusted for inflation, option #2 is now by far the best economical choice, beating option #1 by almost 7%!! Option #1 is actually a pay cut!
Now here’s the kicker, although most people realize option #2 is the best economically, the majority of us FEEL that the person in option #1 is HAPPIER with their raise than the person in option #2. Notice here I said feel happier, NOT that they were financially ahead! Although we’re able to differentiate between the two, most people still believe they would feel happier with option #1!!
What’s more, this same research paper (Money Illusion) also discovered that people believe the person in option #2 was more likely to leave their job. Basically, as William Poundstone summarized in his book Priceless, the overall theme of the paper is:
“$$$ = happiness = actual dollars NOT ADJUSTED FOR INFLATION”.
So how do you get a pay cut and be happy about it? Get a raise, but have that raise be less than the rate of inflation.
We all know the real estate market is in a mess right now, and most of it is really our fault. Too many people took on mortgages they never should have. But it’s not just the borrowers that are guilty, the lenders need to take their share of the blame. Obviously everyone should know when they’re over-extending ourselves, but in obvious situations many lenders still encouraged people to get mortgages. They often helped them get financing through more creative ways, such as loan/mortgage applications that didn’t require any proof of employment, interest only payments, 105% financing, and so on. I won’t even mention mortgages that required high and consistent capital appreciation just to be sustainable.
As part of this mess, many different sales techniques were used. A very common technique was focusing on how much mortgage you CAN afford per month (not how much you SHOULD afford per month). What this means is that instead of looking at the total purchase price, you focus on the monthly payments. By doing this, especially when interest rates are incredibly low, you end up buying properties that in any normal time is well above what you can afford. Which also means that when interest rates go back up, which they will, you’re in a lot of trouble!
Again, the benefit of this selling technique is that you can take the focus away from the real price and look at what you can spend each month. This gives the seller a lot of leeway in the price (not to mention it helps increase commissions). As an example, adding $2000-$5000 on a $500,000 mortgage amortized over 30 years (at our current historically low interest rates) barely changes the monthly total ($9/month and $22/month respectively)! Even adding $20,000 isn’t that big a deal. At 3.5%, $20,000 barely adds $90/month more. $90/month more on a $2500/month mortgage is not a big difference.
But, getting back to the reason for this post, is that lenders have now come up with a new method of rationalizing why you should purchase overpriced properties, or at least a method that I haven’t personally seen yet. Here’s the exert from Tales From the Real Estate Wars:
“Now’s the time to move up to a larger house and eradicate any loss on your present house! How, you say? Come a little closer and I’ll explain: If you bought a house for $350,000 and it is now worth only $280,000 (20% less), you have only “lost” $70,000 if you sit still and do nothing. But if you buy that really big house in the nicer community that used to be worth $550,000 and is now also 20% lower, the moment you close on that house at $440,000, you’ve gained $40,000 ($110,000-70,000). And hey, that’s before you get the $6,500 tax credit! Plus, have you seen how low the interest rates are?”
It’s really perverse logic, but at the same time I can see how people can fall prey to it. They’re focusing on people’s loss aversion fears which is a very strong emotion!
Do you see the flaw in the logic?
The other day on my way home I came across this sign for a new gym. Only 500 memberships are available! It must be an exclusive gym right? Only 500 memberships? How many gyms do you know that limit their memberships? I better go get mine now while I still can!
Or should I? How many memberships is 500 for a gym? Is it a lot? Is it very few? Who knows, and to be honest, it doesn’t really matter. The key metric to how busy a gym is going to be is how many active members they have. If it’s not already common knowledge, the reason most gyms sell yearly memberships is that a large number of people won’t keep going past a few weeks to a few months. Even with the best of intentions. This is why they oversell memberships, and why gyms are generally more packed around News Years. How many memberships do you think are unfilled New Year’s Resolutions?
This however is the first time I’ve seen a gym display an actual real limit to the number of memberships they will offer. At all other gyms I’ve seen they’ll just take your money and enroll you no matter how many members they already have. I don’t ever remember seeing a gym limit their membership. But is 500 a high or low number? If they’ve never had more than 300 memberships, then 500 is more than they’ve ever had so it could almost be considered an unlimited number of memberships. But our perceptions that there is a limit makes us value each membership much more than they’re really worth!
I will therefore bet that because they’ve put a limit, whether or not it’s real or artificially so high that it’s in essence unlimited, that they will get a LOT more sales than if they had the very same sign with just the two words “only 500” removed!
Scarcity can be an effective marketing tactic, and this is a perfect example.