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How to play the ‘spec’ market

Houses, scripts both commodities to fight over in L.A.

In the late ’80s, the market for spec screenplays went through the roof, and agents developed a system for funneling the demand into ever-higher paydays for the writer.

In short, they develop a list of likely buyers, who are alerted and line up to play, and the whole thing is settled in a matter of days. The system still prevails, to the point that three times out of four a writer knows by Tuesday whether the script that went out Friday is going to mean big dough.

Of late, the basic Los Angeles real estate transaction has acquired an odd similarity to showbiz methods. Once again, agents control access to the goods, record-setting prices are being paid, and good judgment goes out the window as self-styled players hunger to prevail in the deal.

Take it from someone who’s watched a deal-crazed buyer bully an agent for info over a cellphone five, six, 10 times a day during a bidding war — for a house. These are strange times. Here, then, are instructions for play in either spec marketplace:

Be ahead of the curve; marshal your resources and prepare to act swiftly.

Screenplays/real estate: Buyers track hot properties and pounce early when they come on the market.

Weekends are primetime for getting in on the action; if you snooze, you lose.

Screenplays/real estate: Buyers stake out time and attention for the weekend read. Stressful, high-stakes financial decisions are made; offers are fielded and reviewed on Monday.

The bidder with the most nerve and the most cash wins. Extra courting may be required.

Screenplays/real estate: The top players stay in the game; a bidding war ensues; insane amounts of money are committed, with little assurance the property will hold its value down the road. Buyer also may need to persuade the seller of his good intentions and shared vision for the property, usually in a meeting (script) or a letter (home purchase).

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