'Greatest Generation' Struck By Mortgage Crisis

Pete Spiker, 80, has dropped the list price on his home by $60,000. Credit: Jacki Lyden/NPR i i

Pete Spiker, 80, has dropped the list price on his home by $60,000 — and expects to drop it even more. Jacki Lyden/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Jacki Lyden/NPR
Pete Spiker, 80, has dropped the list price on his home by $60,000. Credit: Jacki Lyden/NPR

Pete Spiker, 80, has dropped the list price on his home by $60,000 — and expects to drop it even more.

Jacki Lyden/NPR

The mortgage crisis has come to the "Greatest Generation." The stagnant housing market has made many seniors who are in delicate health reluctant owners of second homes. Unable to live in their houses but unable to sell them, they live in limbo and worry.

Pete Spiker, 80, carries his real estate agent's card in his wallet. When he takes it out, it's as if he's showing off a portrait of his granddaughter. He's dropped the list price on his one-story rambler by $60,000 and expects to drop it even more.

Spiker put his house on the market in January. He left after double pneumonia convinced him to move into Homewood, a continuous care community in Williamsport, Md.

Homewood is now home. Spiker says its activities and therapy have been good for his health, and he's comfortable in the community. Plus, every afternoon he is able to visit his wife, who lives in a facility for dementia patients.

But it's unclear how long Spiker can remain there. He's living off his savings, drawing out $1,100 a month for his studio apartment at Homewood. Although he paid off the mortgage on his house a long time ago, Spiker still has to shell out for the upkeep. He pays the electricity, water, security and lawn service bills for a home he can no longer live in.

Half the people joining him for Homewood's new-resident orientation still had homes on the market, too. Ruth Foltz put her house up for auction just to get rid of it. Gene and Jane Flurie had to slash the price of their house, against their Realtor's wishes. And Imogene Doub, 94, just put her house on the market. In the Williamsport area, houses that sold in 79 days just two years ago now take an average of 449 days to sell — a nearly 200 percent increase.

The housing market has come as a shock to many seniors who planned carefully for retirement. William "Bud" Myers lived through the Depression and served as a combat photographer in Germany during World War II. In order to move into Homewood, he took out his first loan ever — at age 85. His home is still on the market, too.

His wife, Lillian, is a former schoolteacher. She recalls a time when she owned just two dresses, one to wash and one to wear, a time when life was frugal.

"Everyone in our generation, our goal was to have a house. ... That was a big thing. So that's what we did," she says. "We worked our you-know-what off to get a house, and we depended on selling the house.

"Now you can't sell the house," Lillian says. "Hopefully you have other assets, but if you don't, you're in bad shape."

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