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Foreclosure curse for new owners?

Meghan Daum

TEXT OF COMMENTARY

Meghan Daum: After more than a year of honest-to-goodness house hunting my husband and I found the homebuyer's version of the holy grail: a bank-owned property that you'd actually want to live in.

Tess Vigeland: Commentator and Los Angeles Times columnist Meghan Daum.

Daum: This wasn't an abandoned tract house in the desert or a shack by the freeway that some fool bought at the height of the market for half a million dollars. This was a shockingly nice house with a shockingly below market price. It had vaulted ceilings, a nice yard, and not just a dining room but a breakfast room. Never mind that all the money we saved is now going toward a new roof and new heating system and a new -- oh, let's not even go there. We're thrilled about the place.

But here's the thing with these REO -- or "real estate owned" -- properties: the karma is inherently bad. We know our good fortune is a direct result of someone else's hardship. The previous owner of this house had lived there for 20 years before he got foreclosed on last summer. My husband tracked him down and it turned out he'd gotten divorced a few years back and had to buy out his wife's half of the house. The problem: he had to pay her the market price and since this was the height of the housing bubble, the home's value had inflated to the size of a zeppelin.

"But it's okay," he told my husband. "I had a good run there. I hope you guys enjoy the place as much as I did."

We can't imagine we won't. But then again, life is full of things you didn't imagine at first. When I was 12, we moved to the house that would effectively be my childhood home. My mother told me, rather cluckingly, that the previous owners were leaving because the parents were getting divorced. As it happened, when my parents eventually moved out, it was because they were splitting. The couple who lived there next? Well, I heard a few rumors.

This is why you're supposed to burn sage or have your house blessed by a shaman or, better yet, avoid knowing about the previous owners altogether. But amid this sea of foreclosures and short sales, those of us who've grabbed the longer end of the stick might do well to take a moment and think about the ones who've lost their hold altogether.

Meanwhile, if you have to get divorced, this is the market to do it in.

Vigeland: Meghan Daum is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. We've got a new blog going called Makin' Money, and right now we're featuring a guest post from blogger Jim Wang of Bargaineering.com to help you decide whether to buy or rent. Check it out -- and leave your thoughts!

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