Foreclosure Double PunchJANUARY 31, 2009
- Romey and the family cat
- (Desiree Cooper)
- View the Slideshow
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Foreclosures are ravaging the historic Detroit neighborhood of Palmer Woods, where reporter Desiree Cooper has lived for the past two decades. Many of the historic homes are now in advanced stages of foreclosure as home prices fall hundreds of thousands of dollars. Instead of weathering the storm, two of Cooper's neighbors are walking away.
Palmer Woods was built mostly in the 1920s and 30s by auto execs and lumber barons. It has the biggest residence in the entire city: A 35,000 square-foot mansion built by auto suppliers and donated to the Catholic Church in 1926. And it's also home to the only house in the city designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
More recently, Palmer Woods has been home to the city's politicians, doctors, lawyers and educators. Right now, many of the historic homes are in advanced stages of foreclosure. Untold others are on the brink. As families leave under cover of darkness, the second shoe of the foreclosure crisis is dropping here in Palmer Woods. With home prices sliding hundreds of thousands of dollars, many people are worried that even when the economy rebounds, it will take years - even decades - to recoup their equity.
Instead of pouring good money after bad, they're walking away. Two of them are my neighbors, Connie and Romey. They're retirees who are raising their grandchildren. They had been relying on their investment income to get the kids through college. But the bear market has sucked away all of their savings.
For years, our backyards nearly touched. But now in order to visit them, I can't just walk around the corner. I have to drive to the suburbs.
"Hi, Connie!" I say as she greets me at the door of her new, smaller suburban home.
"Welcome, welcome how are you?" Romey chimes in, but not before I accidentally let their cat scamper out of the front door.
"That's all right, that's OK," she says.
Connie and Romey had an estate sale in their Palmer Woods home this summer. They cashed out some of their retirement investments just three weeks before the market crashed and bought this new home.
"This is a beautiful view!" I say.
Connie shows me around proudly: "When we came here I was busy looking at the house, and what where you doing, Romey?"
"Oh, I was looking at the yard," he says. "I love the yard. It's absolutely fabulous. I think we're going to enjoy it quite a bit."
Right now, the couple is negotiating with the bank about what to do with the house in Palmer Woods that they've left behind. "I don't think our friends would ever have guessed that we would have done this, but so be it," says Connie.
I was one of those friends who was perplexed. "So I understand how you all came to that decision, but you all are my neighbors," I say. "And here I am, remaining behind in my neighborhood. I don't have the option of cashing out a 401K and moving to an environment that will protect my assets or my investments. I've got to stay there, and the property values are going down, and the houses are going into foreclosure. What do you have to say to me?"
Connie is thoughtful and apologetic. "Well, I feel very badly about us leaving the neighborhood because we realize that has a negative impact potentially on the property values there. It's not been an easy decision. We observed neighbors even five years ago who made similar decisions."
"I think it's important for everyone to pack their own parachute," says Romey. "You have to be responsible for yourself and your family. Being in denial about how things are or how things ought to be or how we would like them to be or we wish them to be doesn't make it so."
That's cold comfort to those people who are helplessly watching the value of their homes slide thousands of dollars. But Connie and Romey didn't want to be sitting ducks. They've bailed out three family members who lost their homes to foreclosure. And Connie has experienced that kind of financial terror firsthand - when she was in college, their family lost their home.
"My mother didn't tell me what was going on," says Connie. "My father lost his job, and they were not able to pay. My parents chose to keep me and my brother in college, and other family members contributed money. We were totally oblivious to what had happened until the end of sophomore year and I came home from school and found out we were living with my grandmother's sister and my father had temporarily moved in with his parents."
"What was that like for you?" I ask.
"I wasn't there when things were put out on the street," she says. "But in the back of my mind, I know it wreaked havoc in the relationship between my mother and father because it was a very difficult time."
Connie's father died soon after. "That stress and turmoil and loss of opportunity for the family to be close are all part of that memory," she says. "I suppose that contributes to my sense of wanting to live with dignity. The most basic lesson is: Don't let them come put your stuff on the street. Take your treasures. Control what you can control and go with dignity because I think you'll live better."
Connie proudly shows me through the rest of the house. We stop in the kitchen, where Romey does the cooking. She pours me some lemonade. Outside, it's starting to snow again. The cat that I let out was peering at us through the kitchen window.
"Thank God the cat came back!" I say. "I was feeling bad about that."
Romey just shrugs and lets the cat in. "He doesn't like the snow outside, but when he has a chance, it's like a jail break - he's out of here!"
They say they'll live out their retirement years in this house. They're hunkered down, prepared to weather whatever the future has in store.
- Music Bridge:
- Untitled Bright Format V2
- Artist: Kiln
- CD: Ampday (Thalassa)