Fantastic set of aerial photos from Google Images (by way of’s Big Picture), showing Florida’s developmental disaster.

The images of half finished (and barely started) developments are strangely beautiful, with a geometric symmetry that belies the state of human misery these developments represent: Lost deposits, bankruptcy, misallocated capital.

That an entire nation can be so innumerate as to believe in a mathematical fallacy is weirdly fascinating . . .


Florida Housing Bust

More images after the jump . . .

Category: Credit, Real Estate, Really, really bad calls

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

32 Responses to “Aerial Footage: Portrait of a Housing Bust”

  1. MayorQuimby says:

    Great post BR.

  2. franklin411 says:

    Fascinating? Yes. Surprising? No.

    Remember, this is also a nation where three out of four people polled in the early 2000s said that economic inequality was worsening in America, but that they also favored Bush’s tax bailout for the super-rich.

    Great little paper on this phenomenon with an awesome title–”Home Gets A Tax Cut: Inequality and Public Policy in the American Mind,” by Larry Bartels.

    Quoting Bartels:
    “Public opinion in this instance was ill informed, insensitive to some of the most important implications of the tax cuts, and largely disconnected from (or misconnected to) a variety of relevant values and material interests.”

    In short, people are morons.

  3. mybestfunds says:

    I was just looking at these last night on the other “Big Picture” – fascinating and scary all at the same time. It’s just amazing what we do to our planet, as well as get caught up in various “bubbles” over the years.

    Best regards & keep up the great work here!

  4. rktbrkr says:

    Florida never met a development proposal it didn’t like!

    There will be tens of thousands of almost new foreclosures sitting vacant while new developments are restarted.

  5. rktbrkr says:

    Title ins cos are blacklisting Chase, Ditech/GMAC/Ally & BAC foreclosures, potential buyers won’t be able to get title insurance and won’t be able to get financing. Buyers will have to run naked and make all cash purchases without title ins – for pennies on the dollar I presume.

    I’m guessing these big banks may create captive title ins cos to make these sales. Maybe a MERS type cooperative ins co, find a jurisdiction that is lenient about the ability of the title inc company to actually pay claims and then we move on to the next stage…

    Maybe it will just be cheaper for them to lobby DC to create a agency to buy their foreclosures at “fair” prices (fair to the banks) and create clear title by these purchases and then sell them at a loss – just to cure the systemic risks in the system.

  6. Chief Tomahawk says:

    In the mid-’80s while on a vacation about Florida, my mother made it a point we try to stop by and see the 2 acres she had inherited from her father due to a previous Florida boom. Near Cape Canaveral, an aerial photo courtesy of the local records office showed the area had been graded for roads though many of the long since abandoned segments were “swamped” over. We drove to the most adjacent access point, only to find a gate across and signs warning of tresspassers being shot, etc. Indeed, the property owner at the point of entry had claimed the drive as his own. Well, we found out who he is and drove to his auto repair business. Friendly guy, he offered to let us back in there, but said it’s nothing but swamp and snakes, etc. We took a pass. My mother ultimately sold out to The Nature Conservancy about 5 years ago.

    One thing notable about the aerial photos: there was a rather well-worn single lane path between junior’s (who we talked to) and the parents’ home on the opposite side of the 256 acre parcel of land. It was more visible than the road gratings and obvious that the family treated the entire property as their own.

  7. NMR says:

    “That an entire nation can be so innumerate as to believe in a mathematical fallacy is weirdly fascinating . . .”

    Not the first time Barry, and it won’t be the last. As for Florida they’ve been having real estate busts ever since Flagler built that railway.


    BR: You are right — I will add a link to that that provides nuance

  8. Raleighwood says:

    The number of cul-de-sacs was enough to make me sick.

  9. look, human crop circles!

    That ‘ 4 leaf clover’ looks like a swastika

  10. GerhardWMagnus says:

    Fascinating! Sometimes when things fall apart it is briefly very easy to see their structure. Truly, we live in interesting times, as this lengthy period of decline should continue to reveal how things used to work in the United States.

  11. doug says:

    I watched the condos in Miami sprout and sprout and fail and fail while visiting there for business over a few years. I thought it was only condos that were overbuilt. My bad…

    Thanks for the enlightenment.

  12. Darkness says:

    Everything in Florida is built on a swamp. Nothing could go wrong with that.

  13. rktbrkr says:

    …Investment adviser Christopher Whalen thinks we could soon be looking at more Wall Street bankruptcies.

    Foreclosure expert Neil Garfield argues that even in non-judicial foreclosure states… the investors have to go to court to prove their case. And when they do, they will run up against the brick wall of MERS. He concludes:

    There will be a head-slapping moment… I doubt if more than 6-7% of all the foreclosures in the past 10 years have resulted in clear title delivered to anyone. And the only corrective instrument can come from the original owner. That homeowner is sitting in the catbird seat and doesn’t know it. Millions of people who THINK they have lost their homes still own them and if anyone wants a signature from those people to clear title, they are going to be required to pay dearly, which is at it should be. Eventually the purse gets returned to the victim from whom it was snatched.

  14. wunsacon says:

    Looks like printed circuit boards. Didn’t we outsource that work?


    BR: Funny you said that — if you let your mouse hover over the circuit board photos, your status bar will show you the names I gave the images — 3 are named circuit boards (1, 2 + 3) and one is named a clover leaf

  15. obsvr-1 says:

    Not human CROP circles … These are real estate CRAP circles

    I’ll have to do a google-earth pass over Vegas to see what carnage is there.

  16. ACS says:

    The ultimate comments about Florida real estate come from Groucho in The Cocoanuts.

  17. willid3 says:

    i was noting the UFO crop circles also. wonder if thats who they will try to sell these houses too?

  18. RW says:

    Florida’s history of real estate speculation is truly as long as the state’s history but, WRT Chris Walen’s point that there will be more bankruptcies among financial firms, my immediate reaction was: maybe but more likely not. A lot of firms may escape their just desserts because the entire chain of security ownership is under threat and this fact must be patched up while being shielded from full public view or entire classes of asset-backed securities could lose value/validity entirely.

    Rather like the games that were played around bank balance sheets. IOW, the problem is not just bad actors, it is systemic and structural with strongly negative implications for the integrity of product and process alike.

    But this led back to the thought that the sheer criminality of corporate conduct — from the CEO down to the lowliest broker/servicer — has probably reached levels over the past decade that are simply unprecedented in the past century of US history.

    For example, there is a post up at Naked Capitalism suggesting that a very large number of foreclosures have been conducted illegally in Florida because legal process notices announcing judicial action were not actually delivered to the homeowner;

    This sort of thing has apparently been accelerating since 2005 yet we continue to hear little of it in the news much less in increased criminal prosecutions.

    The robber barons of the gilded age at least took some responsibility for the system that made them wealthy even as they looted — e.g., J.P. Morgan organizing a wealthy group to support bank credit and subsidize markets during the panic of 1907 — but we appear to have entered an era where elites take what they can get while pointing the finger of blame at others; no sense of responsibility, only of entitlement.

  19. Michael Gat says:

    At least in California, we abandon these things and leave them abandoned, as is the case with California City:,0,2325763.story

    Unlike Florida’s swamps though, the desert moves slowly and it may take centuries or longer for the sign of this stupidity to fade away:,0,196667.htmlstory

  20. Uchicagoman says:

    Reminds me of …


  21. NMR Says: October 3rd, 2010 at 11:34 am

    “That an entire nation can be so innumerate as to believe in a mathematical fallacy is weirdly fascinating . . .”

    Not the first time Barry, and it won’t be the last. As for Florida they’ve been having real estate busts ever since Flagler built that railway.


    BR: You are right — I will add a link to that that provides nuance

    hmm, exactly, How F*****g Stupid are We?

    We, as an entire Nation, have been ‘believing’ in the Greatest ‘mathematical fallacy’, in its most 5recent incarnation, for ~97 years…

    It’s called, here, the Federal Reserve (elsewhere, “Central Banking”); whereby, the Nation’s Currency is lent, by Private Bank(s), into existance, at Interest..

    Hello~! is the “Interest” ever created?

    Hardly. Yet, We continue to dope Ourselves with these distractions–“That an entire nation can be so innumerate as to believe in a mathematical fallacy is weirdly fascinating . . .”…

    Check the Frame.

  22. BR,

    you know, for ref., blame it on your QOTD: “The truth that makes men free is for the most part the truth which men prefer not to hear.” -Herbert Agar

  23. jonhendry says:

    The pictures with streets but no roads might be left over from the 1970s bubble. That was a land bubble, rather than the recent homebuilding bubble, so lots of plots were laid out, but never sold.

    NPR’s Planet Money podcast talked about this a while back.

  24. engineerjj says:

    Anybody that thinks tax cuts somehow caused the housing bubble is an idiot. Americans inability to manage their finances and banks that were more than willing to contribute to their irresponsibility are to blame, not tax cuts. I am sure you can think of other things to blame on tax cuts.

  25. phb says:

    Google map this neighborhood: 26.248278,-81.694209 – A nice “5″ shaped neighborhood.

    Perfect example of Naples real estate circa 2007, not so much as even a shovel has touched this place since then.

  26. tampatom says:

    What I find most fascinating about this article is how many people accept that these photos are somehow related to the most recent real estate boom. Of all the photos, only one looks like a recent development (guess). I recognize most of the others as failed developments from the 60′s and 70′s, most in locations that people still don’t want live in so they sit vacant or underdeveloped. I won’t go into the details of the Interstate Land Sales Act or the numerous State and local regulations that have clamped down on irresponsible swampland development or subdivisions where promised improvements were never made. None of this changes the fact that there has been a huge amount of overdevelopment due to the recent real estate boom. The difference is that many of the recently built and stalled developments have a much better chance of eventually being viable than some of the old Deltona, Rosen and Mackle Developments. When those original projects were done there were few wetland protections, zoning controls and subdivision improvement bond requirements. I don’t know why more pictures from the recent boom are not shown, but I suspect that they do not have the visual punch associated with poorly planned, designed and partially built mistakes from 30-50 years ago. The new stuff is a mix of good and bad but nothing as bad as the old stuff.

  27. WasteNot says:

    I’m not certain that the operations in Vegas depend on a mathematical fallacy. I know a Chinese industrialist who comes to the States about every six months, gets comped about 2,400 square feet of well appointed rooms for a long weekend, plus whatever guests might want to eat and drink, while he plays and loses, on average, $500,000. He is brilliant with numbers and percentages – essentially a counter – and I asked him why he would predictably lose (though occasionally he won) playing against odds when he knew them so well. He responded that it was only when he was completely lost in the game and utterly focused on it that he thought about something other than his business and all the employees depending on him. I suspect that many people know they will lose when they go to Vegas or Atlantic City – certainly all I know who go there and play expect to lose – but they go for some excitement, to see the shows and to get away. I really doubt that a mathematical fallacy leads them there, and I suspect that Vegas’ role will grow again in the not too distant future. I also suspect that technology will solve the water issues there. As for real estate bubbles, I think there were a few in ancient Rome if I recall my history. They are largely forgotten today, and everyone still wants to see the ruins today.

  28. andrewp111 says:

    If I didn’t know better, I would have thought some of these images are printed circuit boards without components.

  29. [...] Barry Ritholtz went aerial photo gonzo over on Big Picture today and his post was picked up freakin’ everywhere so I had to share. Barry presented the amazing images from’s Big Picture (no relation). [...]

  30. [...] spring 2009 (see here for examples).  Having looked at the startling Google Earth images at this blog of the housing bust in the US, I thought I’d capture a few Google Earth images of unfinished [...]

  31. [...] of the things that got my brain ticking was this blog link I got via twitter… Portrait of A Housing Bust. The images really made me think about something I say all the time: “Once you pour concrete [...]

  32. ArchiesGirl says:

    Darkness, don’t forget Washington, D.C. was also built on a swamp. Amazing the similarities.