There is a crisis brewing in chitchat among homeowners. All the good topics are passe.

It used to be that whenever real or aspiring homeowners gathered on a Saturday night, you knew what to talk about. You talked about real estate. It was the burning issue. The stream of America's consciousness. The big deduction.

There were several ways to talk about it.

There was the how-smart-I-was-to- buy-when-I-did style of conversation. This consisted of you bragging about how you had snagged the deal of century, only to be topped a few minutes later by some suspender-wearing wizard who claimed his deal and his house were much sweeter than yours.

There was the mortgage refinancing route. Here again you boasted about how clever you were. But this approach required you to be conversant with the terms "balloon," "variable rate," "processing fee" and "points above prime." These, you later learned, were various ways of saying "highway robbery."

Talking about "condo conversion" was once another reliable way to start a conversation. The trick here was never to acknowledge that a condominium was often an apartment too small for a family to live in. Rather, a condo was always referred to as a "good investment."

All that changed, however, with the rise of Saddam Hussein and the crash of David (Where-Did-He-Go) Stockman's supply-side economics.

Now the zip appears to be out of go-go banking and the fun is definitely out of real estate small talk.

The current buzzword in real estate financing is "non-performing", as in non-performing loan. This is a complex termreferring primarily to commercial real estate transactions conducted in South American countries that may or may not have a national currency.

The easiest way for me to explain the meaning of "non-performing" is to use a theoretical example.

Suppose you have an old car sitting in the back yard of your house. And suppose that instead of wheels, that old car is resting on concrete blocks. Then what you would have, in current market lingo, is a "non-performing" vehicle.

Non-performing loans are not the stuff of good chitchat. Having one is a downer.

So we are going to have to talk about other things. I for one, am taking my conversational clues from the winter of 1973-1974. Back then fuel prices shot up. Back then my primary wintertime activities were shoveling snow and worrying about the furnace pilot light.

Back then the hot topic among home owners was insulation, not price appreciation.

Back then the primary reason you chopped firewood was to burn it in your fireplace, not to burn off calories.

And back then on Saturday nights people used to gather around the pot of soup and talk about that fascinating question, how many miles you could drive on a tank of gas.

I realize that back then people still bought and sold real estate. I suspect that the same thing will happen now. People will continue to buy property. Sometimes they will get a bargain. But they just won't talk about it.

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