Devalued Homes Anchor Prospective Job Seekers As many as one-third of homeowners owe more than their home is worth, and not being able to sell has kept them fixed in place. Staying home has kept people from seeking out better job markets. At what point will people begin abandoning houses in favor of finding jobs?
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Devalued Homes Anchor Prospective Job Seekers

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Devalued Homes Anchor Prospective Job Seekers

Devalued Homes Anchor Prospective Job Seekers

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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


With unemployment at close to 10 percent, work is hard enough to find. For some people, the biggest barrier to moving on to a new job is moving out of their existing home. People can't leave because they can't find a buyer or because their mortgage is underwater, meaning they owe more than their home is now worth. Historically, job opportunities have been the leading reason that people relocate. In the first of a two-part series, NPR's Yuki Noguchi looks at how the lack of mobility complicates things for people looking for jobs.

YUKI NOGUCHI: Melissa Brooks and her husband had a plan. They wanted to move from Lansing, Michigan, to Atlanta, to be closer to family and to improve their job prospects. But now, their home is standing between them and their plans.

MELISSA BROOKS: So everything's kind of just centered on selling this house here in Michigan, and it's just - it's been over a year now, and it has not happened. Not even an offer.

NOGUCHI: Brooks has kept her career on hold so she can be ready for a move. She's also kept the house on the market, which is now a short sale - meaning it's listed for less than what they still owe on it.

BROOKS: Recently, I guess I've been angry at the people looking to buy my home - which sounds crazy, because I want to sell the home. But I guess that's what I'm angry about. Now that it's priced this low, people are looking. And they're starting to ask questions like, well, what about this? Are you going to repaint the deck? And I feel like, you know, don't ask me anything, because I'm short-selling this house. We're not doing anything else to it.

NOGUCHI: She says this past year has left scars. Homeownership once seemed prudent. Now, Brooks feels frustrated and bitter.

BROOKS: I didn't expect, I guess, it to be an emotional experience to try and sell and move out of a house. But I feel like I've been burned, and I feel like, you know, I don't want to open myself up to buy another house.

NOGUCHI: Real estate professor Joe Gyourko, at Wharton, says taken as a whole, this phenomenon is devastating to the labor market.

JOE GYOURKO: Outside of outright foreclosure itself and the loss of wealth, it's probably the most important impact of overleveraging the housing market that we're going to have in this cycle.

NOGUCHI: Gyourko says some markets could take many years to recover. Some people may opt to wait it out, hoping that home prices will eventually rebound. But others may simply choose to walk away.

GYOURKO: If you need a job and you need to improve your life chances, you know, why not? I mean, It's not that it's free. It's not that it doesn't cost you, but it may be worth paying that price.

NOGUCHI: Tony Abrom has considered that. The large telecom company he works for has been downsizing, so he has been looking for work elsewhere, including out of state. But he can't afford to drive far from his home in Douglasville, Georgia. And Abrom says it's declined so much in price he can't afford to sell it, either.

TONY ABROM: We were really ready to leave. We were painting the walls and everything and getting everything done, and that assessment just took the wind out of everything we were doing.

NOGUCHI: Abrom wanted to join the Air Force, but moving for that is also out of the question. So it appears he'll be stuck for some time.

ABROM: My father's buying a house four houses down from me, same floor plan that I have, for half the price that I paid for mine. And when I saw that, it gives me that feeling of, oh my God, I'm never going to be able to get out of this neighborhood.

NOGUCHI: Yuki Noguchi, NPR News.

WERTHEIMER: Visit to see a map that has state-by-state information on underwater mortgages. And if you're trying to sell a house, we would like to hear how that's going.

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