Housing Market Woes Bring Familial Strife A bleak housing market makes people fret about more than their wallets: Families also suffer the consequences. One couple broke off their engagement, but the current value of their home has kept them living together. Another family has been separated by 900 miles for 18 months because the father left for work and their house isn't selling.
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Housing Market Woes Bring Familial Strife

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Housing Market Woes Bring Familial Strife

Housing Market Woes Bring Familial Strife

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


And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

Until recently, owning a home was a hallmark of the upwardly mobile.�Now, it's often a shackle. About a third of homes are worth less than what is owed on the loan,�leaving many people stuck.�

Yesterday, we heard about how this is affecting the job market. Today, NPR's Yuki Noguchi looks at the toll this lack of mobility takes on the personal lives of those who can't afford to move.

YUKI NOGUCHI: In 2007, a young couple engaged to be married bought a three-bedroom house in Burnsville, Minnesota, for $159,000. A year later, the wedding invitations were ready to go out, but their relationship had fallen apart. But they still have their house.

Ms. KELLY CHRISTENSEN: Every time I'd come home, it was heartbreak, because you're coming home to the person whose heart you just broke.

NOGUCHI: Kelly Christensen is one half of the former duo. Two years after the break-up, her wedding dress hangs in her ex's closet. He lives across the hall. They really want to move away, but they cannot afford to sell the house for what it's worth now.

Ms. CHRISTENSEN: There is no way I would have thought this would happen, and no way I would have thought that my every day, practically, was defined by the fact that I own this house somewhere that I don't want to live.

NOGUCHI: Once, Christensen moved to a friend's house for two weeks, only to realize she couldn't afford her half of the mortgage and rent. Another time, her ex, Joel Nerenberg, packed up his car, planning to seek better jobs in California - then unpacked, not wanting to leave Christensen in the lurch.�

Today, the two are still connected in all ways except marriage. They share a bank account for the house. They fix things together. They serve as each other's emergency contact. They're friends, and they even try to encourage the other's dating life - such as it is, they say.

Mr. JOEL NERENBERG: In the process of seeing somebody new, do you bring this up?

Ms. CHRISTENSEN: Like is that a first-date deal breaker? Or do you wait until your third date and bring it up nonchalantly? Oh, by the way, I'm still living with my ex-fianc�. My wedding dress is in his closet. But it's no big deal, really. We're friends.

Mr. NERENBERG: Yeah, good luck explaining that to somebody.

NOGUCHI: The issue of the house haunts them daily. And neighboring homes continue to drop in price.

Mr. NERENBERG: Sometimes, I see pictures of when we lived in an apartment together. And I just think, oh, if I still lived there, I could just drive away right now.

NOGUCHI: Several states away, Stephanie Blair is also stuck in her home, but with very different consequences. Blair lives in Montrose, Colorado. A year and a half ago, her husband lost his construction-related job and moved 900 miles away to take a job in Texas. She stayed behind with their two children to try to sell their home.

Ms. STEPHANIE BLAIR: We find that 18 months later, we still have a house to sell. He's been living in our RV in Texas, hoping that someday we'll be able to join him. Our Realtor's recently told us that there is just no way that our house is going to sell, and we're stuck.

NOGUCHI: The Realtor said the only hope would be to slash the $400,000 price in half - a huge loss they can't afford to take. Blair is considering renting it, though that might only cover half the mortgage.

She's also discovered that the house trap has all sorts of other, hidden costs. Plane tickets are expensive. So is maintaining two, separate homes. And Blair had to give up her part-time work because her husband wasn't around to look after the kids.

Ms. BLAIR: Families are used to helping each other out, and we're just not able to do that from 900 miles away.

NOGUCHI: Kristina Glad Peterson wants to sell her Riverside, California, home. Her husband wants a better job. And they both want to start a family, but not until they can live closer to their Midwestern families. But all of that is off the table because their current house has lost $40,000 in value.

Ms. KRISTINA GLAD PETERSON: I constantly think about it. I was just looking at the numbers this weekend, and I have to tell myself, you know, if we can hunker down for three to five years - which sounds like an incredibly long period of time - hopefully, the amount that we owe on our house will go lower and hopefully, the value of our house will grow higher. And so we can perhaps break close to even, and move on out of here.

NOGUCHI: Peterson knows she's not alone. All around her, houses are for rent and for sale. And there are few takers.

Yuki Noguchi, NPR News.

WERTHEIMER: For more on this series - and if you have a story to share about being stuck in your home - visit npr.org.

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