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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Falling Home Values and Urban Blight: The Start of a Grand Debt Reduction Adventure

urban blightAbout a decade ago, my sister and my mother bought a modest two family home together in a working-class neighborhood made up primarily of people that lived in the homes that they owned. Many of these people had been in the neighborhood for decades, and many were getting on in age.

Through the years, as the older folks passed away, their adult children would return from suburbia long enough to pack up a few mementos, sell what could be sold, leave the rest on the curb for the city trash collectors to dispose of, and turn the keys over to a realtor. A few kept the keys and joined the ranks of absentee landlords, as were many of those buying properties from the realtors.

Soon, we had strangers in our midsts. Drug dealers who were tired of the competition and danger of selling in New York City and preferred the relative calm and higher profits of the capital region made up a significant portion of the new arrivals. A neighborhood that once featured kids playing outside and neighbors who all knew each other, became one in which shootings happened. Stabbings happened. Drug and prostitution traffic were readily visible.

The children had to be taught how to adapt to the new environment. If you hear loud arguing, get in the house. If you see the police driving slow down the block, come in. No playing outside without one or more of the Great Danes keeping watch. Those are the rules for the back yard, they're never out front alone. A dispute between drug dealers ended up with a 12 year old getting grazed by a stray bullet a couple of summers ago.

Property values, naturally, declined. My mother passed away and I took over her half of the two-family home. And, my sister and I started to think. We thought about: over $900 per month for the mortgage, almost four thousand a year for property tax, and heating costs of more than $500 per flat per month during the heating season. All for a place in which we were, really, no longer happy.

Our situation was this: with kids and an assortment of pets that includes Great Danes upstairs and downstairs, her cats, my mother's birds, which I had to take custody of after her death, as they would not survive my sister's cats, and my nephew's turtle, we have no choice but to own. Selling the house leaves us with no start up capital to buy another home, as the property values have dropped and we have debts remaining from the period of time after my mother's stroke, when her health insurance ran out, until we could make other arrangements for her health care costs. Credit scores were damaged in the struggle to make sure my mother had her medicine during the period she was without health coverage.

And, then, we came up with a plan. Our grand debt and cost of living reduction adventure. Sell the house, eliminate the lingering debt, get a fresh start. Buy a tract of land, and set up our homes to run off the grid, using solar and wind power, reducing our expenses greatly. Invest our efforts and our money into being as self-sufficient as possible, including food production. The goal is to eliminate debt and reduce cash outlay, which will, in turn, allow us to reduce the time spent working and increase the time spent enjoying our children and our lives. After all, children grow so fast, too fast, and all too soon there will be plenty of time for 60 hour weeks again.

We are currently in phase one -- wrapping up the details of the house, packing up, and putting things in storage until we are ready for them. The motor home is parked out front, awaiting the beginning of our journey to make our new home in much warmer weather. We expect to leave NY during the first week of February and I look forward to sharing the details of our grand debt and cost of living reduction adventure with you as we experience it through the weeks and months to come.

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Blogger FeelessBalanceTransfer.com said...

I'm quite envious. You're embarking on an exciting and radical adventure. I wish you all the best, and I'm looking forward to reading more news about the road trip and the move.

Monday, January 21, 2008 1:28:00 AM  

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