As if sitting in on an end-of-life lunch conference wasn't bad enough (and imagine trying to discreetly work your way through a pasta salad when discussing Terry Schiavo and feeding tubes) I had the joy of sitting next to two self-congratulatory muppets holding forth on the credit crunch.
I did not weigh in, although I may have given my broccoli spears an extra vicious stab or two. It's a refrain I hear too often these days, smug fixed-raters happy to lay the blame for the current financial meltdown squarely at the feet of those 'stupid enough to take the loans in the first place'. People who happily bought their homes five or more years ago that were lucky enough to find properties they could afford without incurring excessive risk.
We are certainly not in this happy group. We did end up buying at the wrong time and with a horror story of a loan. We probably do deserve everything we are likely to get served up to us. I am putting this down in defence of the imprudent, the stupid, the people who made their own beds and are now forced to lie in them. I am writing this so I can get it off my chest without engaging any self-righteous twits the likes of whom I sat next to this afternoon.
If Bridget Jones can have her 'smug marrieds' I can have my 'smug fixed-raters'.
In my (our) defence, we are not stupid. I had heard of negative equity well before the credit crunch. We were faced with a town where real estate was so ludicrously out of our reach that renting was the only option. In the time that we sat quietly, prudently squirreling away our nest egg, the most basic, squalid, 2-bedroom condos sky-rocketed by hundreds of thousands of dollars. Those people we watched take dodgy loans to get a foothold in the market were coming up smelling of roses. Santa Barbara real estate was always a safe bet, there had never been a downturn, if anything only a plateau, way back when the rest of the country took a bath. So we took a chance, because we'd already wasted so much time doing nothing. It was good advice, a sensible decision, and I am terminally sensible. It was the only chance we had.
I still think the decision we made was prudent. If things had gone faster, smoother, we would have been chuffing laughing. We bought an income property with the intent to switch four apartments in to four separately saleable condominiums. Divide and conquer. The City of Santa Barbara worked on our conversion application at a deliberately glacial pace. There were too many hurdles to mention (archeological surveys, sounds surveys, sewer lateral surveys, survey surveys), but we finally did get planning approval and permits issued.
Too late it appears, the financial tide had turned.
We are still in the fortunate position of being able to collect rents. Our position would have been infinitely worse if we'd bought a condo back in 2005. It still leaves us with a nuclear mushroom cloud of a loan, and a hell of a job trying to hang on, but you better believe we're getting creative on that end!! Who knows, you may see creature #2 on Ebay in the near future. At the very least I may be jogging for a 'tax baby' at the end of December.
So while you're busy patting yourselves on the back and applauding your fiscal good sense, perhaps take a moment to consider how much luck played in to your success. We are not all spendthrifts putting 'I want, I must have' things on credit because we feel we are entitled to a lifestyle above what we're prepared to work for. There are plenty of people in this mess, who through job-loss, illness, sky-rocketing interest rates or other unforeseen circumstance are no longer able to afford a basic right - a home.
And yes, in the words of Norman Tebbit, we can just get on our bikes. No-one made us live in this rich-man's town. Except it's my husband's home town, where he wanted to stay and raise children, and we tried to make it work. Trust me, nothing can put a strain on a marriage like running in to trouble fulfilling someone else's dream.
I don't blame our mortgage broker, he was only doing what every single loan broker in this town now denies doing; helping people into properties they knew they couldn't afford so that they could at least have a chance at taking a risk. I do blame the mortgage companies for allowing these loans, which caused property values to rise exponentially, and I'm sure they in turn have regulators they would like to slap. And yes, this is a 'correction' and people should be made to pay, capitalism will have it's pound of flesh. I see how unfair it is to take tax-payers monies to bail out those who made bad decisions. But this is bigger than that - this is everybody's savings, their pensions, their ability to get a loan to make a better life. This is scary. This is working hard and going backwards. You better believe I will be telling Anna the 'Robert the Bruce and the spider story' over the years to come.
See, this is what happens when I eavesdrop on other people's conversations instead of listening to this month's guest speaker on the topic of 'Advance Directives, How To Die With Dignity'.