Thursday, July 23, 2009

Waiting for Another Shoe

My close friend moved herself and her children and two dogs out of the house she's lived in for over 10 years because she couldn't sell it, and after her husband left she drowned in the mortgage. She didn't exactly flee in the night taking only what she could carry, but she did try to move her belongings in small installments and at odd hours so the neighbors wouldn't notice. I asked her why. "I'm humiliated," she said. "I've lost my house. Maybe other people don't feel this way but it's embarrassing to me." She's renting for the first time since she was a newly wed.

Another day, another good friend. I asked him if he ever planned to move from the house he raised his children in, the same house he was raised in. I was just making conversation while we walked the neighborhood, but he surprised me by answering honestly. "No . . . unless I lose it." Later he tried to poo-poo what he'd said, but I know he's worried. He's self-employed and not only has his business yellowed and withered, but over the last several years the mysterious, successive medical disasters that have visited his family would overwhelm a plague doctor. And so would his insurance payments and prescription costs. 

Yet another friend is hoping the bank that holds his mortgage is so overwhelmed with foreclosures they won't notice he hasn't met his payments for the last quarter, at least not until he can figure out a way to catch up. Or find a place to move his family. He's also self-employed and I've seen two separate emails from him lately outlining ways he can, with his friends' help, defibrillate his business. Because he's desperate. 

My friends move forward and hope, but they're waiting for the other shoe to drop. As am I.

My husband is also self-employed and I teach part-time at a university. Needless to say, our work is coming in teaspoons these days--and so is the money. Luckily, we rent right now. Unluckily, we may be renting much longer than we had planned but we seem to be more secure than our neighbors and friends whose homes are on the block. 

My neighbors are all educated people, highly educated even. But Utah Valley is full of highly educated people who can't afford to eat and pay their mortgages and pay utility bills and make their car payments and meet their insurance premiums and sock away three months worth of salary not to mention long-term savings, and help their children pay for college and missions and weddings, and . . . so on. Some blame low salaries or zero job opportunities in a place they love and want to live in, others are entrepreneurs whose markets dried up last fall, and still others have lost their jobs. But so many more bought homes they hoped to be able to afford in maybe 3-5 years, a risky and as it turns out tragic gamble. I hear that sad story most often in Utah Valley, which has seen a steep increase in real estate prices over the last 10 years. Now what's left after the neo-1920s speculative fury are brand new developments, in the heart of Provo and all over Utah Valley, full of beautiful expensive but empty homes. Twenty-first century ghost towns. 

So I shouldn't be surprised when I read that Utah County has one of the highest foreclosure rates in Utah; according to RealtyTrac (, 667 properties foreclosed in June in Utah County, which is about 1 in 207. That's a startling statistic for a predominantly LDS community whose fiscal ethic is conservative, whose mantra is "live within your means." 

Sound advice, as it turns out.


  1. You have hit it square on! You have made this problem very personal. People need to read this. There are many people as well who bought or overbought at the top of the market, now their property is worth 50% of the purchase price. Not much incentive to stick around for that - especailly if the borower has little or no cash in the game.

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