April 1, 2009

Opportunities abound in this economy. I have a shameless sense of optimism that I find myself holding back because I feel the weight of worry in the air. This holding back reminds me of seeing an old friend at my father’s funeral. His death brought horrible change to my life, and the thought of living without him locked my jaw tight. But then I saw my friend. The warm memories pushed my grief aside and relaxed my jaw into a smile. She tried not to smile back, but some things must never be stopped.

The beach is almost empty. The mid-afternoon sun heats up the sand, creating a mirage that ripples the air above. Without people, this Florida beach has a serene beauty.

There are great travel opportunities available, but my mind turns to the actual property value of these great beach vacation spots, like here in Florida or the Bahamas. As people wait out this recession, they grow anxious as their need for cash increases and the value of owning a second home decreases. The U.S. market is already flooded with houses. Property values in some areas of the U.S. have fallen 40 percent, and this is just the first round. With another wave of mortgage defaults expected to hit the U.S. in 2010 and 2011, property prices should decline even further. The five-year “Alt A” and “option arm” low interest mortgages are due to reset (and the principal will have to be repaid) in 2010 and 2011. With house values at current levels, many homes carrying these high risk mortgages are no longer worth the principal amount owed on them. So even if interest rates remain low, refinancing may be impossible. Financial analysts expect about 70 percent of these mortgages to default. From then, it will be three to five years before the mortgage issue gets cleaned up and back on track.

Losing a home is extremely hard on families — I remember the foreclosure on my childhood home. But looking back, I think there is also a sense of relief as the weight of worry that is tied to the debt disappears. There is a psychological impact and when those stressors are gone, creativity can once again flourish, both in a family and in the economy.

My thinking is that there will be huge opportunity in 2010-11, when the next round of high-risk mortgages comes due. And I have a feeling the large beach villas or small highly leveraged hotels with property valuations propped up by now-crumbling rental revenues will begin to flood the market. So now all I have to do is convince a few friends to pool our resources and create a private fund to buy up these unique beachfront properties. It would work as an investment, but it could also allow us all use of the property while we wait for the real estate market to come back on track.

Opportunities do exist; at times it’s just a matter of connecting with others and pooling your resources. My father used to say that change is the only truth you can rely on, and no matter how bad life gets you can always count on change. In this economy, I think the real issue is seeing change as an opportunity. It isn’t easy, especially when loss is connected to it. But the more I fear change, the harder it is to deal in it.

Sarah Thomson can be reached atpublisher@womenspost.ca.


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