Housing Prices Fall: Time to Move to Omaha?

  • Playlist
  • Download
  • Embed
    Embed <iframe src="http://www.npr.org/player/embed/6406569/6406570" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no">
  • Transcript

Screenwriter and author Richard Dooling talks about his op-ed that appeared in Sunday's New York Times. Dooling offers up Omaha, Neb., as an option to avoid housing bubble panic.


Time now for the TALK OF THE NATION Opinion Page. For the last year, real estate analysts warned of the end of the housing boom, and with the bubble beginning to burst, homeowners on the coasts are feeling more-and-more deflated. If you're listening to this broadcast in a small box in an expensive high-rise, cast your eyes toward the middle of the country.

In an op-ed in this Sunday's New York Times, author Richard Dooling offered up Omaha, Nebraska and a nice list of pros and cons as an option for any coastal refugees. We have a link to his op-ed at the TALK OF THE NATION page at npr.org, and we want to hear from you.

Have you moved to the center of the country to avoid the shards of the housing bubble bursting? Can you get a good bagel in Nebraska? The number is 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. Or you can send us e-mail, talk@npr.org. Richard Dooling is a screenwriter and author most recently of Bet Your Life, and he's with us from the Ware House Productions in Omaha, Nebraska, and it's nice to have you on TALK OF THE NATION.

Mr. RICHARD DOOLING (Screenwriter and Author, Bet Your Life): Nice to be here, Neal. Thank you.

CONAN: And I understand, at least rhetorically in your op-ed, people there in Omaha are preparing for an influx of New Yorkers?

Mr. DOOLING: Nothing rhetorical about it, Neal. We're preparing. We're building condominiums, and we have people training to be dog-walkers and poop-scoopers, and we're ready for them.

CONAN: And is this something that people are looking forward to?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DOOLING: Moving to the Midwest?

CONAN: Yeah, or are Midwesterners looking forward to an influx of people from the West side?

Mr. DOOLING: Well, I think we're ambivalent about it. I mean, one of the best things about living here is being able to drive around without sitting in traffic, so if we make it sound too good, then it might get crowded.

CONAN: But if you jaywalk in those situations, you might get run over.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DOOLING: I always jaywalk, and I've never come close to getting run over.

CONAN: I wonder, there are a lot of pros and cons you offered in your op-ed to consider before cashing out and heading to flyover country. Pros, for example, you say a big yard.

Mr. DOOLING: Yes. That's one of the first things you can appreciate, and again, you just put your dog outside. One of my earliest memories is seeing this -when I first went to New York City, I was probably 36 years old, and I saw this dignified, well-dressed, elderly woman on the Upper East Side, you know, picking up poop.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DOOLING: I had never seen that before. I didn't know what she was doing. That doesn't go on here. We just put them outside. And the same is true of the sky. You know, you live - grow up, in a place where the buildings are always above you, and you never get to see the horizon. And out here it's everywhere all the time.

CONAN: Of course, on the con side, you have big yards and big sky.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DOOLING: Yes. That would be yard maintenance, which is incredibly noisy. I mean, people often in urban environments think oh, you know, I could move out to the bucolic Midwest, but one of the primary industries in suburban Omaha is lawn maintenance.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DOOLING: It's very loud, with leaf-blowers and so on. And then the same thing is true of the big sky. I mean, it does make you feel small, even if you're from New York.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: You did note that there was a comparison done on CNNMoney.com that said if you were earning $229,000 a year in Manhattan, you could maintain your same standard of living at $100,000 a year in Omaha.

Mr. DOOLING: Yeah. That kind of surprised me. I mean, generally speaking, things are about one-third less. But that's over half, you know. So that surprised me, too, when I did the research.

CONAN: We're talking today with screenwriter and author Richard Dooling, who wrote an op-ed that appeared in this Sunday's New York Times. If you'd like to read it, there's a link to it and to all of our recent Opinion Pages at the TALK OF THE NATION page at npr.org. I'm Neal Conan, you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's get some callers on the line. This is Terry. Terry's calling us from Wellesley, Massachusetts.

TERRY (Caller): Hi, can you hear me?

CONAN: Yes, you're on the air. Go ahead.

TERRY: Hi. I just moved from Michigan to Wellesley last month, and I should tell you I sold my dream - my Barbie dream house in Michigan, and I bought less of a house for twice the price in Wellesley. And we have lowered the price to our house to less - much less than we originally purchased it for, and we're just begging for someone to buy it.

So it is true that life is a lot cheaper there in many ways, but I still wouldn't trade my life in the Northeast for Michigan. It's just the economy there - I don't know about Nebraska, but much of the Midwest, if you go to the northern part - I mean, I'm sorry, but the education level for our kids, it was just terrible. The economy is terrible. My husband's job was just going down the flue, and there was nothing there for me.

CONAN: Well, Richard Dooling, you said one of the attractions of eastern Nebraska is, in fact, both the economy and the schooling.

Mr. DOOLING: Yes. This is the fourth in our series of economic articles that I've done about Omaha, and the first one, especially, dealt with the boom here. I mean, we've had $2 billion worth of new building since the year 2000 in Omaha, Nebraska. So there's no problem with the economy here.

And then the other feature that you notice, especially if you move away as I did and lived in St. Louis for like 10 years and then moved back - people go to the public schools here. That's where you send your kids, and so you don't mind. I mean, we have - in the article that ran yesterday, we noted that the property taxes here are, you know, very high, right behind New York in fact. But people don't mind. In fact, there's a spending lid on the ballot that's about to be defeated in early November because people know that that money goes to maintain their schools.

And even people like me - let's see, three out of four of my kids go to private schools, but I believe in spending that money to educate everybody, so we do have excellent schools here, and that's probably the number two reason. I mean, you ask people why do you stay here even though the taxes are so high, people say one, quality of life, and two, the school system; and then maybe three, the inconvenience of moving.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: And if Terry's right, maybe you should brace for refugees from Michigan.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Terry, thanks very much for the call.

TERRY: (Unintelligible) because the state is almost empty. I should add one more thing. The one thing that brought us when we moved - when we thought of moving out of Michigan, seeing how the situation was there was we have a daughter with special needs. And my husband looked for (unintelligible) all over the country and unfortunately, the one thing that kept us from going to places like - my husband's currently working in Arizona, which is also has a big economic boom, but we couldn't (unintelligible) services that the public schools are willing to provide for children with special needs, and many of these areas are still emerging.

CONAN: Okay.

TERRY: So we found that unfortunately, yeah, it's expensive in Wellesley. But if you go to New York or you come to New England, what you're going to get for a special needs child, it's much more than in other parts of the country. So that's just my last comment. I'll take it off the air.

CONAN: Okay, Terry. Thanks very much for the call. Good luck. Let's see if we can go to Derrick(ph), and Derrick's with us from Las Vegas.

DERRICK (Caller): Hey there. Listen, I once had - I was a model agent, and I had to go to Omaha, Nebraska to judge a model contest. I'm a gay, liberal, black male from L.A. I did not want to go. When I got there, I was expecting the KKK to meet me at the airport, the whole bit. Those people were so nice. They were the friendliest people on earth. The gay community was amazingly large. They had a whole gay district.

The downtown district had been redone, and one of the first times I'd ever seen a good urban-renewal project, for lack of a better term. And I told all my friends when I got back, you know what? I could live there. And it's so cool to have somebody on now, like sort of validating me, because for years, my friends - whenever the subject of Omaha comes up - they go, oh, here goes Derrick about Omaha again.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DERRICK: And this is just great to hear. It's a great place, and I strongly recommend to people if nothing else, go visit it. It was a really wonderful experience.

CONAN: And Richard Dooling, again on your pro-and-con list, on the pro side is friendly people. And on the con side is friendly people.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DOOLING: Who love to visit for hours.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DOOLING: But it's interesting, Derrick - taking up Derrick's observation. One of the books I mentioned yesterday was the Quality of Life Report by Meghan Daum. And she - that was a novel, you know, written - she wrote after she moved to Lincoln, Nebraska. And the main character in that novel expected some of the same things that Derrick was expecting and was pleasantly surprised to find the farmer driving by on his tractor waving at her two lesbian friends and saying howdy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DOOLING: So the stereotypes don't apply, I don't think.

CONAN: Derrick, thanks very much for the call. And Richard Dooling, we appreciate your time today. Thanks for being with us.

Mr. DOOLING: Yes, thanks for having me.

CONAN: You can read Richard Dooling's op-ed online. We have a link at the TALK OF THE NATION page at npr.org. Richard Dooling is a screenwriter and author most recently of Bet Your Life. He was with us today from Warehouse Productions in - where else? - Omaha, Nebraska.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.