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In Idaho’s Depressed Housing Market, Dueling Dreams

Idaho has the unwelcome distinction of having one of the highest foreclosure rates in the nation.  Nearly 2,000 Idaho homeowners lose their homes each month, according to RealtyTrac’s count of foreclosure filings.  But that’s not the whole story.  Even as many homeowners work their way through foreclosure, low prices draw new buyers in.  It’s a cycle of dreams lost and dreams gained.

In Idaho’s Depressed Housing Market, Dueling Dreams

Not long ago, Carmel Crock made a drive that she had avoided for much of the last year.  She turned onto a steep road that winds into the hills above Boise, past homes she knows well.  “This is Jenny and Ray’s house,”  she said.  “I watched Ian be born, and I’ve known Corey since he was teeny tiny.  And this house, the second one on the corner, is my house.  Was my house.”

Molly Messick / StateImpact Idaho

Carmel Crock, in the backyard of her new home. Since her move, she has been trying to make the new house feel like a home by planting flowers and a small vegetable garden.

It’s a simple 1960s ranch, white with green trim.  Crock says it was the sunset views and the peacefulness of this spot above the city that made her and and her husband, Ken Harris, want to live here.  At night they could hear foxes barking, and wild turkeys calling to one another.  “And quail!” she said.  She and Harris used to joke to one another, complaining about the noise.  “That was our laughter lying in bed with the windows open!  A cacophony of wildlife.”

Crock says they could afford the home when they bought it in 2001, but soon financial pressures began to mount.  Harris’s nightclub businesses faltered and ultimately went bankrupt, but not before Crock had refinanced the home twice.  At that point, she was doing well as a real estate agent.  Her income was going up and up.  She thought she could do it all: help her husband, and pay the monthly mortgage that had risen sharply to more than $3,000.  “This is where you kind of go – ‘Golly sakes, where was my brain thinking?'” Crock said.  “I actually had a lender girlfriend that had said in 2005, ‘Carmel, just sell the house.’  And I couldn’t let go.  And she was like, ‘What if something goes wrong?'”

Something did go wrong.  In the fall of 2008, Crock was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Surgeries and chemotherapy followed.  She couldn’t work regularly, and couldn’t cover the mortgage payment.  Crock says she tried to negotiate with her lender, but discussions went nowhere.  Before long, she came to a hard realization: they were going to lose the home.

Crock says the stress was overwhelming.  She was worn thin, and out of options.  She stopped making payments in 2009.  To avoid foreclosure, she short sold the home last summer for $100,000 less than she owed.

Molly Messick / StateImpact Idaho

After a brief visit to this home in Nampa, prospective homebuyers Jake and Jessica Silver decided not to make an offer. A three-bedroom foreclosure, the home is listed for $87,000.

The housing market has been kinder to Jake and Jessica Silver.  They’re a young couple, 25 and 19, looking for a home years before they ever thought they would.  Since early September, they have been visiting foreclosures in Nampa with their real estate agent, Tom Koltes.

After weeks of looking, they tour houses quickly.  It took them just fifteen minutes to rule out a three-bedroom and two-bath home in a newish subdivision listed for $87,000.  “The neighborhood, it’s not quite as high-quality as some of the neighborhoods we really like,” Jake said.  With so many foreclosures on the market, the Silvers can be discriminating, and Jake says they have to be.  They want to make a smart investment.  “Really, you mentally pick the house apart,” he said.  “You need to think about about what you would have to put back into it.”

The Silvers know that the low prices they see result from others’ hardship.  In some homes, they notice signs of the families that have moved on — a child’s hand prints, pressed in cement, or a garden, withering in the backyard.  But they say they have to think of their own future, too.  They have a picture, in their minds, of the house they’d like to own someday.  It will be a cozy place, with a little land.  They want to grow things, and raise livestock.

The local housing market is full of dreams lost, and the occasional dream come true; full of people like Carmel Crock and Jake and Jessica Silver.  They’re all taking part in the enormous process of resetting home values.  According to John Starr, a land broker in the Boise office of Colliers International, that process happens little by little, home by home.  “Each asset reaches its final point in value on its own,” he said.  “What’s the combination, to an individual, of pressures and situations that leads to the giving up of a dream?  That’s different for every person you talk to.”

A year after her short sale, Carmel Crock has a different life.  She’s now cancer-free.  In her work as a realtor, she specializes in short sales and foreclosures.  She and her husband have a smaller home, and a much smaller mortgage.  “We’ve come through an incredible, character-building time,” she said.

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