Hard Lessons in Home Economics

Rocked by declining property values and job loss, the Carrs are searching for answers

Sherley Bretous-Carré and Edenswear Carré still believe in the American dream. Starting in 2002, the Carrés began investing in real estate as a way to build wealth. Over the years, they purchased two homes and two plots of land, amassing a tiny real estate empire that spans three states—their home state of Massachusetts, plus Florida and Texas. The Carrés carefully plotted their road to prosperity, and it was all going smoothly until the real estate boom came to a sudden halt. Now, confronted with declining home values and an economic meltdown, owning multiple properties feels, to the Carrés, more like a stranglehold than a savvy wealth-building strategy.

The Carrés are hardly unique. Through most of this decade, millions of Americans were drawn into the housing market. They came not simply looking to be homeowners, but with visions of becoming landlords and market speculators who could buy homes at low prices and flip them for profit. In those years, U.S. economic activity was powered by home building, home buying, the financing of real estate purchases, and consumers’ own desires to fill new homes with the furnishings of middle-class life.

The Carrés were no different. In 2002, they purchased their primary residence, a four-bedroom, two-bath, $220,000 house, in Lawrence, Massachusetts. In 2006, they bought a $292,000, three-bedroom, two-bath rental home in Cape Coral, Florida. Then there’s the two acres of land in Coral Spring, Texas, they bought for $57,000, and the 35 acres in Marianna, Florida, purchased for $60,000 the same year.

The housing market’s collapse has stripped wealth from millions of American households. Since the height of the boom in 2006, home values across the U.S. have fallen dramatically. By the end of 2008, more than 8.3 million homeowners nationwide owed more on their mortgages than their property was worth, according to a survey by mortgage market analysis firm First American CoreLogic.

The Carrés were no frenzied real estate speculators. There was logic behind each of their purchases. They bought land in Texas thinking the warm climate would make it an ideal place for Sherley’s New York-based parents to retire. The Florida rental property was supposed to pay for itself, but given the economy and the resulting glut of houses on the market, they haven’t been able to make a sale. They also haven’t been able to get much in rent. The most they’ve been able to charge is $1,000, but the monthly mortgage payment is $2,000. And the other plot in Florida? “I was supposed to flip that land quickly but it didn’t happen because of the market,” says Edenswear, 35.

As if declining assets weren’t enough, the Carrés, who have three children, are enduring another hallmark of the current economy: job loss. Last summer, Edenswear lost his job in sales, making $30,000 a year. That blow has made living on Sherley’s annual salary of $105,000 (which she earns as an assistant principal at a charter school) more difficult. In addition, the couple’s 2-year-old daughter Ilyana, recently started daycare, which costs $215 per week. The couple’s two other children are 10 and 8 years old. “The economy has had a major effect on our plans,” says Sherley, 36.

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  • JA

    Take care Edens,I hope things work out for you!!!