Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Little Pink Houses

My first experience with foreclosure was in the early 90's. My parents had bought a brand new house in South Sacramento in 1988. The couple that moved into the corner house next door had been able to do so based only on some funky financing. I don't remember exactly what the deal was, but, basically, they were paying a ridiculously low amount for the first couple of years, and then it would gradually increase until they were paying, well, a ridiculously large amount.

The wife stayed home with the kids and sold those home sales products, and the husband worked landscaping & janitorial for a school district. This was not a family that could afford a standard mortgage payment. Neither were they a family likely to significantly increase their income in the next few years. So it was neither shocking nor unexpected when they moved out suddenly and the foreclosure sign went up. When they had told us about their mortgage, we saw that foreclosure coming.

SweetPea and I live in a mostly working class neighborhood. Mainly lower and middle middle class families. We're fortunate that there are very few renters in our neighborhood, and almost everyone owns their home (or is renting it from the mortgage company, anyway). Most of the homes could probably be described as starter homes – one floor ranch houses originally built in the early 50's, almost exclusively single bathroom jobs.

When the market was hot, there was a lot of turnover. Houses were selling for prices that were pretty well out of line with their actual worth. These are not $300,000 houses, and this is certainly not a $300,000 neighborhood. Still, they were going for that much and more. Standard, cookie-cutter 1953 ranch houses with one bathroom in good condition with fairly large yards.

As you can imagine, quite a few houses were bought by people who, in the end, could not afford to continue paying their mortgage. Maybe they got suckered into a loan like our old neighbors did, maybe a job was lost, or maybe money was just too tight for too long.

Now that the market has crashed, we're watching the neighborhood turn again through foreclosure.

First the “for sale” sign goes up. Usually it will come down after a month or two, the house will empty, and then the notice will go up on the door. You know the notice: house has been foreclosed, all occupants must vacate. Then the lockbox and the new for sale sign.

Because our neighborhood is not a prime market, usually that bank-owned for sale sign will be up for a few months, and then the big yellow Auction sign will go up.

There's one house right now with that big yellow sign and it breaks my heart every time I see it.

A latino family bought the house during the big boom. Back when I was taking the bus to work, I'd walk by it every evening and they'd have friends and family members there working on it. I think it was a pretty decent house to begin with, but they put so much into it. They put in new windows, stuccoed the walls, changed the window trim completely, painted, repaved and expanded the driveway, put in a new fence, created an adorable porch area and completely redid the landscaping. And I have no idea how much was done to the interior.

I don't know if their plan was to resell after everything was complete, hoping to earn more back during the big boom, or if they were doing it for themselves. It was a labor of love, though, to be sure, and I enjoyed watching that little house bloom under their care.

When the for sale sign went up earlier this year, my first thought was that they had to be out of their minds, trying to sell the house in this market. But then the bank-owned sign went up and, finally, the big yellow sign.

I don't pass by that way very often, since I no longer take the bus. Every time I do it's like a morbid little surprise.

It's not the first house to go up for foreclosure in our neighborhood, and it certainly won't be the last. But it breaks my heart to see a house be so loved and cared for and then dumped back on the market.

I would love to see it go to a family that will love it and care for it and appreciate the work that was done.

More, I can't wait until the market recovers a bit, and there are fewer houses in our neighborhood standing empty. I hate to see good houses going unused, for many reasons, and will be nice to fill the neighborhood up back up.

I always hope for a cute lesbian couple with kids the same age as ours. But I'll settle for families that aren't the type to put out “Yes on 8” signs.

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