You can’t blame Chicago residents who’ve been bamboozled in the past for having grown cautious as April 1 approached. They braced themselves for this Monday, knowing that the practical jokers will have been hard at work concocting 2019’s April Fools Day tricks. There would be spoof ads, fake headlines, and who-knows-what else? to watch out for.
That’s why you could hardly fault those who instantly dismissed last Friday’s banner headline in the Wall Street Journal. It might be unfair to print an April Fools prank ahead of time—but pranksters have done that before.
And the article certainly bore all the earmarks: an almost believable premise (slightly understated to build credulity) followed by the requisite goofy supporting specifics. Maybe it wasn’t as wild a story as one the Onion might foist off—but it did add the kind of ridiculous details that would set up a satisfying “APRIL FOOLS!” payoff.
“The 4% Mortgage Is Back!” was the shocking headline—followed by the parody subhead, “Its Biggest Drop in Over a Decade.” The supporting text talked about mortgage rates “fast approaching 4%”—rates “so low” that “economists and lenders believe it will help jump-start the housing market again”!
For Chicago real estate watchers who have been following actual Chicago mortgage interest rates over the past few years, the overwrought details would have been a sure tipoff that pranksters were at work. A full quarter point sheared off of home mortgage rates in a single week? That (as the article explained) might constitute “the biggest drop in over a decade”—but to any reasonably well-informed reader, it would surely also confirm that the April Fools writers were in charge. The graph that accompanied was evidence that the Journal artists were in on the joke. Its gradual rise and sudden plunge looked more like a diagram of going over Niagara Falls in a barrel than of a realistic rate chart.
The final surprise proved to be—well, it actually proved to be on readers who thought they’d spotted an April Fools Day gag. The article was real. It appeared in Friday’s print edition as “Mortgage Rates Fall Toward 4%”—and the information was, however improbable, 100% accurate.
It was also a great practical development for the already-lively Chicago market and Chicago home buyers and sellers. Another not April Fools Day idea: call me!