I've been looking for something to illustrate how you can take advantage of pessimism.
Here is a blog about Consett, a small town in the North of England that was shattered by the closure of its main employer, a steelworks. The writer says (28 Dec 2006 entry), "I came across a copy of the Consett Guardian from 1983 - the year when you could buy a house for just £10,000..."
I looked on NetHousePrices for houses sold during 2006, to get an idea of the cheapest in a whole 12-month period. A terraced house is one joined to other houses left and right: the lowest individual sale price I could find for last year was £42,000. Yes, it's much lower than the national average for such properties (£186,316 according to the 9 March 2007 article on this site), but had this house in Consett sold for that £10,000 in 1993, the new owner would still be looking at a capital gain of 6% compound per annum. The article just mentioned gives an average Northern terraced property price as £125,058, and the Consett street that had most (27) sales of such properties last year showed an average price of £127,733.
So what happened to Consett? Their MP Hilary Armstrong explains:
...contrary to predictions the people of the district did not let the town die. After the closure, Project Genesis was launched to revive the local economy and regenerate the town. New industries have arrived, such as Derwent Valley Foods and aerospace company AS&T and unemployment is now down to the national average level. The site of the Steel Works has been reclaimed with new housing, a retail park and environmental landscaping. There is still a long way to go but Consett is still very much alive and is now seen as a successful case study in regeneration.
Financial experts like Bill Bonner and Marc Faber have revealed their purchases of cheap agricultural property in selected areas around the world; and sure enough, there's people out there now in the US who have spotted the opportunity in depressed housing areas like Detroit.
The worst hasn't happened yet, in any case - but think of bargains, when others can only see ultimate defeat. Remember Sir John Templeton.