CARBONDALE, Illinois.Â This bucolic town of 26,000, the source of carbonated water for much of the Midwest, is not insulated from the downturn in real estate values that has afflictedÂ less idyllic areasÂ of the nation.Â "LastÂ year about this time I could've sold a Sears Tool Shed for a single-family home," says Century 21 realtor Cindi Minkoff.Â "Now about all you could do is store tools in it."
Carbondale, IL:Â Where the carbonated water flows pure and clean.
WithÂ introductory "teaser" rates on adjustable rate mortgages moving upwards, many homeowners on fixed incomes--particularly retireesÂ with so-called "reverse" mortgages--have found themselves squeezed out of their homes, forced to find more affordable shelter for "golden" years suddenly tarnished.
Map showing areas of Illinois colored in with felt-tipped pens.
"I try to look on the bright side of things," says Marjene Wilbur, a retired former newspaper columnist who is known as the "Poet Laureate of Pets" for the verse she writes about her neighbors' dogs, cats and fish.Â "We'll be more cramped for space, but I'll have less housecleaning to do."
Marjene and her husband Paul are abandoning their residence of twenty-seven years and moving across town to a split level home whose owner, Jim Steffins, is theÂ mortgage lenderÂ who persuaded them to refinance their existing loanÂ in 2006.Â "Jim told us everything would be all right," says Paul, "so we're gonna take him up on it."
Under a "reverse mortgage" loan a lender advances funds toÂ homeowners over the age of 62, with payments deferred until the owners die, sell their home or enter a nursing home or assisted living facility.Â Borrowers are still required to pay real estate taxes, however, and with rising municipal budgets, some reverse mortgages have gone into default, resulting in "reverse foreclosures" in which the borrower takes over the lender's residence.
The Wilburs, outside theirÂ new home
As the WilbursÂ approach Steffin's house, they shush this reporter's questions.Â "We want this to be a surprise," Marjene says, as Paul takes an air horn out of a tote bagÂ bearing the local public television station's logo.Â "Ready?" Marjene asks him.Â "Let 'er rip," he replies, and Marjene pushes Steffin's doorbell.
Jim Steffins, PrimeFirst Mortgage Golden Circle Winner, 2006
Steffins comes to the door in his undershirt and a pair of Southern Illinois Salukis basketball shorts, and is surprised to see his former customers.Â "Paul, Marjene, what brings you here?" he asks pleasantly.
"We've got dibs on the bathroom!"
"Surprise!" the Wilbers shout as Paul blasts the air horn, sending Steffins' toupee flying.Â "Jesus H. Christ!" Steffins exclaims.Â "What's this all about?"
"You said we had a reverse mortgage, and the sheriff just threw us out of our house, so here we are!" Paul says with a big smile on his face.Â "Which room is ours?"
Steffins is taken aback, but he has barely begun to recover when two more seniors, Mary Beth and Tim Meuschke, arrive through the open door.Â "We need to use the bathroom, right away!" Tim says with an embarrassed look on his face.Â "I know that's not very polite, but you know how it is when you join the 'Depends Generation'!"
The flurry of activity has Steffins flustered, but being the career real estate man that he is, it doesn't take him long to recover.Â "The master bedroom's going for $200 a month," he says to the two couples.Â "The couch in the basement's $150."
Copyright 2008, Con Chapman