“Dear God, please bring the real estate market back. I promise not to piss away all my money this time,” says a sign in a real estate office.
Pahrump, Nevada wasn’t even on my radar when I moved to Las Vegas from California; I just ended up there. My trusty side-kick, Monty and I were rambling along highway 160 one afternoon, looking for a good place to get out and run, when we came to Pahrump. Monty’s the yellow Labrador who keeps me sane.
In the following weeks, I researched properties and then decided to make an offer to purchase a charming little fixer on an acre in Pahrump, thinking it would be a great rental property. My Vegas clients began to take an interest and I became their Pahrump real estate agent. It got to the point that I was spending more time showing houses there then I was in Las Vegas. So, I did something I swore I would never do again; I moved into a fixer. It was christened, “The Pahrump Dump.”
In early 2004, during the sixty days I’d had my little acquisition in escrow, its value went up $10,000. The real estate boom was on. We were all working flat out, coining money.
The next year, I re-financed my, “Pahrump Dump” to build a garage and replace the downstairs flooring. Nonetheless, because my daughter was so sick, I spent most of the money on trips to doctors and hotels for me during her lengthy hospital stays.
Fast forward to the fall of 2008, at my real estate office.
Harry’s deep blue eyes, no doubt they sparkled on better days, were filled with fear. Conspicuous gray roots showed through Ruth’s well cut honey-blond hair–probably a couple hundred dollars’ worth of meticulous care in a Vegas salon–and her beautiful green silk shirt looked like it needed some dry-cleaner love. I can’t give you their real names because I keep all my real estate files confidential.
In 2004, they’d retired, moved from Troy, Michigan and then bought a cute little house in Pahrump. That day, sitting across my desk, Ruth had wrung her lace handkerchief into a wet lump. I handed her a box of tissues to dab at her tears.
Red blotches of shame and anger competed for space on Harry’s face. “We thought we had such a deal when we bought the house. Back East, prices were more than double what we paid here,” he said. Now, since the company cut our retirement checks by 60%, we can’t make our mortgage payments anymore.”
“After thirty years working for the same people, they just stole our money,” Ruth blurted.
Ruth and Harry had met twenty-five years earlier when they were both young, salaried workers for Delphi Corporation, a car parts manufacturer that was a spin off from General Motors. When the Federal government took over the collapsing General Motors, Delphi went bankrupt. Twenty thousand non-union employees like Ruth and Harry had their pensions cut and in some cases, eliminated entirely.
They thought their only recourse was to sell their home. Unfortunately, Ruth and Harry’s home was valued at approximately thirty thousand dollars less than their mortgage and seventy-five thousand less than its 2004 value, at the time they met with me. I explained the option of a short sale where we would need their lender’s approval to sell for less than the amount owed. Their other recourse was to try for a loan modification from the lender.
I knew an attorney in Las Vegas who had a decent success rate in getting mortgage payments lowered for his clients. I referred Ruth and Harry to him, thinking that I might have to pay the same guy to help out with my own loan modification. It had been almost two months since I’d sent the paperwork to my lender.
A month later, I’d met with a dozen more folks in the same boat, and Ruth called to tell me that their prospects for lower mortgage payments looked very good. Around the same time, I got a letter from my lender ASC, (America’s Servicing Company) asking me for more information before they could modify my mortgage. It turned out they needed everything because they’d lost the first batch of paperwork I sent.
The snotty little creep on the other end of the phone had me feeling like Willy in Death of a Salesman; I was either down and out or delusional to be asking for a lower loan payment. I suddenly understood Harry’s fear. I was only a few months away from foreclosure if things didn’t improve.
Then the shit really hit the fan. Bank of America, curse their slimy little souls, almost tripled the interest rate on my two credit cards with no explanation. There was no reasoning with them; they wanted more money, could not tell me why, and that was that.
It had become increasingly difficult for buyers to get home loans because the banks changed their lending guidelines almost weekly. My closings were dropping like flies in a cloud of bug spray.
I finally got mad. What the hell was going on? Chapter 3 next week.
(Copyright © Susannah Surgeoner 2012-2013.)