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The Real Economy

Stuck in Vegas: The Nevada housing market

Sarah Gardner Feb 3, 2012

Jeremy Hobson: Tomorrow, Nevada Republicans will voice their opinion on which presidential candidate should face President Obama in the election this fall. And the issue of housing is likely to be front and center on voters’ minds. Nevada led the nation
in home foreclosures last year. And so it is where we launch coverage from our new Wealth and Poverty Desk.

Here’s Marketplace’s Sarah Gardner.

Sarah Gardner: Meet Tom Wideen. Husband, father of three and hurting homeowner.

Tom Wideen: This is our cul-de-sac. I call it Foreclosure Lane.

Wideen, his wife Denise and their daughters live in Enterprise, a middle-class suburb just south of Las Vegas. Their street isn’t even a decade old yet, but it’s seen plenty of trouble.

T. Wideen: There’s 11 houses on it. Nine have been foreclosed, two of ‘em foreclosed twice.

Wideen fears his house will be next. The couple used to run a small business, fixing properties damaged by fire or burst water pipes. But since losing that business during the housing bust, the Wideens have struggled to make payments on their four-bedroom home.

Denise Wideen: It was about a year that we started having to use credit cards to survive.

In fact, Denise says,  they haven’t made a payment in months.

D. Wideen: So I guess we’re just waiting for that sticker on our door, right now. I do look everyday.

Like many Nevada homeowners, the Wideens are stuck. Their house is worth a mere third of their $45,000 mortgage. They can’t make any money selling the house, and even if they could sell and move? The job market isn’t that promising elsewhere. Tom says funny thing is, when times were good, their suburban street attracted some riff-raff.

T. Wideen: Well, I think because drug dealers could buy houses for no money down.

Since all the foreclosures though, the Wideens say “decent” families have moved in. They’re hoping a new state law that makes it harder for banks to foreclose will buy them some time. Tom’s busy hunting for a new career. And the family just filed for personal bankruptcy to get out from under some old business debt.

T. Wideen: It’s a new road for us to travel on. Wish we weren’t there. But it basically is going to give us a fresh start, and that’s what we need. I’m 47 and I don’t have too much time to get another start going and generate an income.

One saving grace, Wideen says? Denise’s part-time job at Starbucks. It doesn’t begin to pay the bills, but it’s the only reason they have health insurance.

In Enterprise, Nev., I’m Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.

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