Here's a nice little story comparing the downturn in real estate in the 1990s to the one today. And there are many: cheap and easy credit, big price drops in every sector (I remember a friend in California who parents could not sell their house for 40% of its appraised value), cap rate compression and the like.
And there are differences, too. This cycle has even bigger job losses, while the last cycle had overbuilding in many markets. We had an RTC then, and I'm not sure we are going in that direction at all. CMBS is a major player (and problem?) instead of the lifes and all. Blah, blah, blah.
Having the historical context is good. But the important thing to remember about all this can be summed up in one word: opportunity. The biggest complaint that most of us are hearing is about these days is a continued lack of credit. At some point someone is going to make that happen. Bank on it, if you'll pardon the pun. And if you are not "shovel ready," so to speak, with possible deals for your pipeline, you might miss out on some once in a generation chances to make money. Ask the guys who did in the 1990s; they ought to know.