Despairing Homebuilder Hears Ghosts

Is he losing it? Our "advice columnist" tries to help him understand how he might quiet the haunting voices

Editor's Note: "Lonely at the Top" is a humorous (we hope) take on business news in the form of an advice column.

Dear Lonely at the Top,

I'm a homebuilder, and I think I'm going insane. I walk past my unsold houses at night and I swear there are ghosts. I hear voices, babies crying, couples arguing. And even though it's almost Halloween, I know they aren't the Undead. They're the Undecided. The people who make my life miserable day after day by not making up their minds. Their ghosts are living in my latest subdivision, Les Banlieues. How can I get some peace?

Cracking Up

Dear Cracking,

You seriously need to take a break. Have you considered a less stressful line of work, such as catching rabid dogs?

Escaping your living nightmare won't be easy. This past week it was announced that median new-home prices fell almost 10% over the past year, the worst decline since 1970 (that's right: the year Jimi Hendrix died). Nothing like the fear of overpaying to keep people on the fence.

You're already doing some things right. Naming your latest subdivision Les Banlieues gives it a nice Gallic flavor, never mind that the poor banlieues surrounding Paris are being torched as we speak by angry youths. Also, I see from materials you enclosed in your tear-stained letter that you're also building condos in Miami. That's a good bet. At this rate, you ought to be able to unload them in, oh, 25 years.

But there's more you can do to get out of your predicament. These days all the big builders are throwing in freebies—granite countertops, plasma TVs, swimming pools. You've got to go your rivals one better.

Offer to come to the house at 6 a.m. with a pooper scooper and walk the dogs. Promise to help the kids with algebra. Say you'll get on your knees and polish Dad's shoes every day before he walks out the door. Swallow your pride.

If that doesn't work, I have one word for you: China. The Chinese are going crazy for luxury housing subdivisions such as Chateau Regalia in Beijing. Here's what you should do: Dismantle your houses (the way they're being made these days, that should take about 15 minutes), pack them into containers, and ship them to Shanghai on a cargo ship that's going back empty. Finally—a U.S. export the Chinese really want!

I hope my advice has been useful, Cracking. Write back and let me know how it's going. Meanwhile, Happy Halloween!

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