A young couple with children purchased a home in February 2006. Today the house sits gutted; bought out by a speculator who will probably flip it when the spring market opens in a few months.
I never met the family. They lived around the corner and we exchange waves as I strolled by on my way to fill errands. This is an older neighborhood, bracketing both sides of the Second World War and built upon compact lots in a grid pattern, ringed by shops and restaurants (an envious layout copied by the New Urbanism design philosophy in the modern era). So it was common for me to pass down this busy street on my way to the more important things I needed to complete that day.
All seemed well for the family. I noticed improvement each time I strolled by. They built a brick walkway by hand over a period of weeks one summer, of elaborate patterns accented with short masonry pedestals. Later I could hear the pounding of hammers as they began construction of an overhanging roof above their backyard patio. Clearly these were people who intended to stay for awhile. They invested a lot of pride and sweat equity into their property, their personal American Dream.
I noticed something amiss in the spring. The house began to look unkempt: leaves cluttered the driveway; small branches that fell over the winter remained on the lawn; grass got trimmed intermittently. Soon enough, a no trespassing notice appeared in a front window followed shortly by a "For Sale" sign. It sat on the market for months until a large construction dumpster sprouted suddenly on the driveway a few days ago, and everything including the kitchen sink got dumped unceremoniously into the front yard.
The people who lost this house purchased it in February 2006 for $600 grand. That may have been absolutely the worst real estate timing possible, with prices in the neighborhood at an outrageous all-time peak. Longtime residents watched in bewilderment as prices paid for nearby homes continued their insane climb. Who could afford these places, we wondered? Just shy of a decade earlier this seventy-year-old home with only 1,300 square feet of improved space had been assessed at one-third the value for which it sold in 2006. Of course in hindsight we all know it wasn’t sustainable. We are all aware of the effects of housing bubble and its inevitable burst.
My point isn’t to assess blame. Certainly there was more than enough to go around. What possessed a couple of moderate means to believe they could reasonably afford a home so horribly over-priced above a half-million dollars? What real estate agent in good conscious could have steered them towards this terrible decision? What lender could have concocted the exotic, shady loan that was probably necessary to buy this home, knowing it would blow up in their customer’s face a couple of years later?
Rather, I’m just an observer, and for me this puts a human face on the economic downturn I’ve only seen thus far in headlines and through the news media. This is but one example, an everyman instance replicated across the board, even in those places that think they’re bulletproof. For that reason and for the privacy of the family involved, I am not including a geotag on this entry (which is in sharp contrast to just about every other posting on Twelve Mile Circle).
For me, as I gaze upon this home, the most poignant moments come from the personal reminders of the family that once lived there. Look closely just below the roofline along the front of the house and notice that Christmas lights mark what may have been a final happy moment. A swing set — practically brand new — placed in the backyard in search of a child. It will probably end up in a dumpster. The family left so abruptly they didn’t even take down the satellite dish.
And they never had time to finish the roof over the patio.