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Market quakes may slow Silicon Valley housing boom

People are speculating that Silicon Valley--home to hundreds of wealth-generating tech companies--may become a hotbed of foreclosures if the historic Wall Street sell-off continues next week.

Asked whether the stock market debacle has caused his clients to back out of million-dollar deals on new houses, real estate broker Bill Goldman laughed.

But his was a nervous laughter.

None of his customers canceled pending sales or downgraded from dream homes to condos today, when the Dow and Nasdaq plunged to their worst daily point declines ever. But Goldman, a broker for Palo Alto, Calif.-based Goldman Group, speculated that Silicon Valley--home to hundreds of wealth-generating tech companies--may become a hotbed of foreclosures if the historic Wall Street sell-off continues next week.

Although the speculative bubble in tech stocks had been deflating for weeks, today's pop grabbed the attention of car dealers, real estate brokers, professional stock traders and others who have come to depend on stock-option millionaires created by Silicon Valley technology companies. Few were overly worried today, but some were concerned that a continued slide could put the brakes on the industry's growth.

"People are just starting to digest their losses," Goldman said. "I'm waiting till next week, when people start adding up the losses. Right now, people are in a daze."

Many people characterized today's sell-off as an overdue correction that will weed out profitless companies whose stocks have soared as the overall market climbed. Others suggested the drop could reflect the end of the nation's prosperity cycle, which has been gaining momentum since the end of the most recent recession in 1991. The bullish called it harrowing, but merely a blip.

"In six months, we won't remember this," said Tim McAdams, president of San Jose, Calif.-based Pacific Online Trading and Securities. "Technology stocks are the future. If you don't put money in Intel, Microsoft, Sun, Oracle and Applied Materials, where's the future? It's not in Ford. Silicon Valley is the future of mankind."

But even the most optimistic technophiles--those who believe that Microsoft will regain the billions in market value it has lost in the past three weeks--say the dramatic run-ups of recent years are unsustainable. Some real estate agents and car dealers admitted today that they felt a secret sense of relief at the turmoil.

"I almost hate to say it, but a correction would be wonderful," said Dennis Badagliacco, a broker for Re/Max Valley Properties in San Jose, Los Altos and other cities throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. "We can't have this type of appreciation for much longer, because nothing will be affordable. It's not sustainable."

Although most Americans have lauded the recent stock market run-up as a road to riches for individual investors and retirees, Silicon Valley also has seen a seamier side of the wealth machine: a dramatic increase in the cost of living.

In San Jose, the heart of the Silicon Valley, a two-bedroom, one-bath starter home abutting a busy multilane thoroughfare that Re/Max offered at $350,000 sold for $450,000. Local real estate agents aren't surprised when pricier homes sell for $1 million more than the asking price.

"I'm not bragging about it," Badagliacco said. "That's scary to me."

A salesman at Anderson-Behel Porsche in San Jose agreed that the market collapse should theoretically erode sales. But apparently none of his customers have taken stock of their losses yet.

"I don't know what's going to happen down the road and whether people are just in denial right now," he said. "But we're sold out for the next six months and still taking deposits. It's been crazy around here."

Robert Butterworth of International Trauma Associates, a clinical psychologist who counsels people during moments of grief, said technology companies and the cities that depend on them will not feel the sting of a market collapse for several weeks. He said investors often spend the days immediately following a disaster in denial.

"Obviously this is a completely new reality," Butterworth said. "It's like getting sobered up after a long drunk. They're going to get depressed. If their identity is tied to money and the money goes, they're going to have to go wandering around wondering who they are."