What the story of one 400-year-old house in Amsterdam can tell us about today's housing market
Most of us leave no lasting traces that recall our stay on the planet, but through accident and fate, Fransz left something that has endured the centuries. His house — an elegant redbrick step-gable, its facade ornamented with sandstone bands and wooden cross-framed windows, a building that has more of the Renaissance than the Baroque about it — still stands. Napoleon and Hitler conquered Amsterdam in their separate centuries; later, postmodern architects and the sex and soft-drug industries made their marks. Pieter Fransz's house withstood all.
The Dutch have always been meticulous recordkeepers, so it is possible to follow this house, and others nearby it on Amsterdam's famous Herengracht, or Gentlemen's Canal, as they make their way through the centuries: to watch the succession of doctors, diamond cutters, confectioners, merchants and politicians move in and out, to glimpse the births and deaths, to watch careers and families unfold. More to the point, it's possible to follow the successive property transactions in this area of Amsterdam from the time it was developed to the present.
In itself, this isn't exceptional: other European cities have land registers that date to the Middle Ages. What makes Pieter Fransz's neighborhood unique — and uniquely interesting to some economists who are studying today's global real-estate boom and wondering whether the bubble that has been expanding for the past decade and more is in the process of bursting — is what real-estate experts call a constant quality index....
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