Many Americans are struggling as banks hold a tighter grip on their money, making it more difficult for consumers to get all kinds of loans. But for some, falling home prices and the vast number of homes in foreclosure represent an opportunity to invest.
Karen and Aamir Siddiqi got married four months ago and moved from Denver to Atlanta. Both 30, they live in Atlantic Station, a hot spot in the city, where they rent an upscale three-bedroom apartment.
"We moved down here and planned on renting for a year," Aamir Siddiqi said. "But once we saw the property values and the market, we just decided that with interest rates nice and low, it was the time to get started right away."
Sitting on a large circular sofa in the living room, Karen Siddiqi and her husband talk about their future. They're both young professionals with steady jobs. She's a project manager for a huge Web and video conferencing company, and Aamir works in sales for GE Health Care. Together they earn about $200,000 a year.
What started out as kind of just "let's peruse, let's search" has turned into "we can't miss the opportunity right now."
They don't disagree with the idea that in a sense, the economic downturn has been good news for them.
"It has, and we have been discussing this, where unfortunately someone else's misfortune can turn into another person's fortune, literally. And we're very fortunate and blessed to be in the situation that we can capitalize on the current conditions in the market."
Both Aamir and Karen work from home offices. In the not-too-distant future, they hope to have kids. So they're looking at big homes, with lots of bedrooms, in the far Atlanta suburbs. And mostly what they're looking for are foreclosures.
"They're not just dull, drab unkempt homes. They are homes that people unfortunately could not keep up with the payments on," Aamir said. "They're absolutely immaculate and they're just severely underappreciated right now."
"It tugs at your heartstrings a little bit," Karen said. "But you know, hopefully by buying the home we're helping everybody out of a bad situation."
About an hour northwest of downtown Atlanta, in Acworth, Ga., Karen recently took a second look at a home the couple bid on nearly two weeks ago.
"When you walk in, you're in a formal sitting room," she said, "and it looks like there's a stone fireplace with floor-to-ceiling windows, which is beautiful."
This two-story, five-bedroom home on a cul-de-sac was built in the past five years. It's not in foreclosure yet. The family that owns the house and the bank are working on what they call a short sale. That means the owners are having a hard time making their payments, so they're selling the home at a loss in hopes of preventing a foreclosure.
In a good market, the home would be worth about $450,000. Now it's going for around $300,000.
Heading downstairs to a partly finished basement, Karen said that the house is one of more than a half-dozen homes the couple has made an offer on.
"We offered under $300,000; we offered $292,000," she said. "So we'll see if it comes through. But I really do like the house. I like the location. I think it's beautiful — so fingers crossed, and we'll see what happens."
The Siddiqis don't hear much about the personal stories of those who've had to give up their homes. Mostly they're dealing with banks. And for lenders, these sales are merely transactions — and perhaps a way to recover some of their losses.
Back at the apartment, Aamir says the couple are careful how they spend money, because they're buying a house. But they're not afraid to move forward.
"Like everyone, we're more cautious. We're looking at where it makes most sense to invest in what," Aamir said. "But when it comes to real estate, I think the economy is cyclical, and all things that go down must go back up at some point. So yes, I think it's not going to stop us from pursuing our dreams."
Recently, Aamir and Karen Siddiqi did hear back from the bank. Another family has made an offer on the home in Acworth. The couple says that's OK — if they don't get that house, they believe time is on their side, and eventually they'll find just the right one.