Saturday, June 14, 2008

Housing crisis hits too close

There’s the housing crisis: this big, amorphous slump hanging out in our economy like an unsightly bare behind that’s only partially concealed by a scanty hospital gown. And then there’s the housing crisis on our very own street.

One of our neighbors confessed last week that he is on his way to foreclosure. Layoffs, injuries, and an evil, slippery thing called a refinance with an adjustable rate mortgage have pressed him into a tight corner—and may very well render him a sheriff’s sale statistic before all is said and done.

And that makes me mad. This is a nice person, a hard-working person who’s had more than his share of challenges, even in the short time we’ve known him. He’s one of so, so many folks in danger of losing a home. And while I realize that the people who are in this boat are often partially to blame, it still makes me furious at the others who rode this mortgage money wave until it crashed ashore.

I want to confront all those brokers who suggested adjustable rate loans in the first place. I want to collar the fools who ever invented a 40-year mortgage. (Yes, there is such a thing.) I want to clobber the suits who raked in profits while their smaller, face-to-face counterparts helped everyday folks dig their own graves, practically handing them the shovel in some cases.

Frequently, the grave was dug because someone wanted to have a nice, big, new house, period. Whether or not they could afford it, whether or not they’d proven to be a good lending prospect, they were handed thousands so they could keep up with someone else’s success. And that is sickening to me, on multiple levels.

When we allow the American dream to own us instead of the other way around, then it slips through our fingers. Which is the shame we’re witnessing now.

I’m afraid it’s going to take a big, painful slam onto the beach before the wave riders realize the extent of the damage they’ve caused our society. And that same ugly slam will be required by many consumers in order for people to change their ways, prioritize properly, and live within their means once again.

In the meantime, a lot of good, struggling people who’ve experienced genuine hardship are going to be paying the price for some greedy bigwigs who bought and sold not just homes to live in, but also people’s lives—all to make a quick fortune. As a result, everything has changed. Behold the mess. Then, grab a mop—because we’re all going to be cleaning it up, willingly or not.

NOTE: For a very interesting, in-depth take on this situation, please visit the archives of the NPR show “This American Life” at this link:

This particular episode is all about the housing/lending/loan and credit crisis we're suffering from these days. It's almost an hour long. But if you’d like a non-news perspective on this situation, then listening is well worth the time, in my humble opinion anyway. Once there, just click on "full episode,” sit back, and prepare to be irate. ; )


Facie said...

Since we are looking for a house, this has really been on my mind.

I just read in Parents mag that someone (household) with an income of 75k should have a mortgage payment of something like no more than 1,700. I was stunned, since the article seemed to be about being cautious, putting money down, etc. I think the Parents mag article should have said that some people recommend spending no more than 28 percent of your income (or whatever they suggested) on your house, but we recommend spending much less, with today's economy.

Bri and I make in the neighborhood of that example, but our mortgage is not even 40 percent of that. Even when we get our next house, we will come nowhere close to that amount. How can you expect to pay for other bills with a mortgage like that? A coworker was telling me about someone who makes/made something like 35k and they bought a 200k house.

We are a materialistic society, no doubt, and I am not sure people are ever going to get over that, but maybe what is going on is going to help people in the long-run. Let's hope.

Mel said...

I'm with you, facie. caution, caution, caution. but then again, buy the nicest place in the best place that you can afford, and cut elsewhere--drive crap, eat cheap and at home, buy used... because if you're going to invest, a house/property is as big as it gets.

there are a lot of houses on the market right now, I'm noticing. if you guys get offers, you'll have your choice of the next home. ; )