Housing Woes Hit Affluent Middle-Class Homeowners
"I try to bunch up my appointments together so as not to drive back and forth to the office too much," he says. To make extra money, he also works part-time as a bartender at the Greensboro Coliseum, a local arena, and, with his wife, Denise, has cut back on going out to restaurants. "It seemed like things just sort of stopped after Christmas," he says.
Mr. Alexander, 48, grew up in Irving Park and still enjoys driving past fashionable addresses like Country Club Drive, telling stories about Greensboro’s old-money families, like the Cones, who founded Cone Mills and made the denim for Levi’s jeans.
Although Cone Mills went bankrupt in 2004, and other local textile makers have cut thousands of jobs, you wouldn’t know it from visiting Irving Park. It has long been among the wealthiest census tracts in the state, according to Mr. Debbage, with a median income of $122,052 in 2000.
"New money has flooded into the neighborhood, with younger people buying older homes and tearing them down," Mr. Alexander says. "I couldn’t afford to buy." He now lives in Summerfield, the same suburb where the Schneiders are trying to sell their home.
Sitting in the Sunset Bar of the Greensboro Country Club, Gary Jobe is still enthusiastic about Irving Park, especially the profitability of pulling down older homes on big lots and putting up one, or sometimes two, in their place.
A third-generation Greensboro builder with a high-end clientele, Mr. Jobe’s business in Irving Park is thriving.
Mr. Debbage says the very top end of the market in Irving Park is unlikely to feel anywhere near as much pain as newer, middle-class neighborhoods. "There’s a certain cachet and social prestige that’s hard to replicate elsewhere," he says. "It’s been like that for a century, and it has built up over multiple generations. For those folks to be impacted, you’d have to see a very severe recession."
For those in Greensboro who are less fortunate than many residents of Irving Park, this is a time of waiting. Not just for all those empty houses to start selling again, or for gas prices to drop.
Like the rest of the country, anxious homeowners who have no intention of moving are watching to see if the recent rate cuts by the Federal Reserve put a floor under falling real estate values.
Local residents are also talking up the opening of two projects they hope will replace some of the high-paying jobs lost when the domestic textile industry foundered. After 10 years of planning, FedEx expects to open a new hub at the Greensboro airport next year, which will eventually employ up to 1,500.
Nearby, Honda Aircraft is building a new headquarters and factory. "I don’t know if it will be enough, but it will certainly help," Mr. Debbage says of the new employers.
Although it will be years before these projects begin to pay dividends, would-be real estate tycoons are still hoping against hope for a quick turnaround.
Driving down the country roads near his horse farm in Oak Ridge late last year, David Tolbert spotted a sign announcing an auction by a local builder who’d run into trouble. He ended up buying the house — the four-bedroom that Mrs. Tillman is now trying to sell for him.
"I bought it to flip, but the flippage part is not going so well," he says. Like the Schneiders, Mr. Tolbert had always quickly sold his past homes for more than he’d paid. Now, with the carrying cost running at $2,000 a month, he, too, needs to sell and is considering a price drop — though he has already lowered the price once, to $409,000.
"We’d hoped to make a profit, but if it doesn’t sell by late this year, my profit will evaporate," he acknowledges. "It’s a pretty good deal, but I haven’t gotten any nibbles."