Features

Market swamp

"Market swamp" Continued...

Issue: "Shattered dreams," April 5, 2008

After hurrying through a spate of darkened homes, Scharf finally finds another owner at home. Pat Costello has lived in this modest, stucco home with his wife for two years. They bought at the peak of the boom and now owe more than the home's value.

Costello was a real estate appraiser, and his wife was a title agent. Both lost their jobs when the bubble burst. The couple has been trying to short sell their home-a process in which the owner sells the home for less than the outstanding mortgage and turns the proceeds over to the bank. The bank then considers the loan satisfied. "But no one has even looked at the place in three months," said Costello.

Costello isn't surprised to receive the foreclosure notice and is even optimistic about the future. He's only 24 years old and is thinking about becoming a fireman: "I think we'll all be better off in the long run."

Kristen Schroder isn't as sure. The single mother of a teenage son lost her job as a nurse's aide a few months ago. She fell behind on her bills and stopped paying her mortgage. Now she's trying to short sell her home, too. The agent recently dropped the selling price from $149,000 to $99,000.

Schroder is resigned to losing her home and acknowledges, "I probably brought some of this on myself." She's considered moving to Tampa to live with her brother, but there's one problem: "He's in foreclosure now, too."

After hours of serving papers, Scharf says the work is physically easy but emotionally tiring. "I served a lady a few weeks ago who just fell apart in tears," he said. "All I could do is hug her and pray for her," Scharf said.

Scharf finds support at his church, Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Cape Coral. Scharf's pastor, Oliver Claassen, says the 200-member church is struggling, too. Church members have lost jobs and congregational giving is down. The staff members have taken pay cuts, and the church has revamped its budget while trying to help members and outsiders who are struggling financially.

Jorge Acevedo, pastor of the 2,000-member Grace United Methodist Church nearby, says the crisis has hit his congregation hard, too: "Never in my ministry have I seen this kind of ordeal in terms of people being at wit's end." The church is helping members as much as possible, though giving is flat and they've already made staff cuts. "There's not a lot we can offer except for Jesus and prayer and each other," says Acevedo.

So far, that's been plenty. Acevedo says that as the economy has turned down, church attendance has gone up: "If anything, the uncertainty has created a spiritual hunger."

Claassen agrees and says his church has grown as well. "For so long we've been praying that God would lead us to the point where we would be dependent on Him. That's what He's done," he says. "It's a good season."

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the national political beat and other topics as news editor for WORLD. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.

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