Showing posts with label How a Financial Pro Lost His House. Show all posts
Showing posts with label How a Financial Pro Lost His House. Show all posts

Sunday, 13 November 2011

 

ONE night a few years ago, when the value of our home had collapsed, our debt was out of control and my financial planning business was shaky, I went to take out the trash. He wrote a book based in part on lessons learned by losing his Las Vegas home in the housing crisis. There was this enormous window that looked right in on the kitchen table, and through it I could see my wife, Cori, and our four children eating dinner. It was dark outside, so they couldn’t see me, and I just stood there looking at them. After a while, I pulled up a bucket and I sat on it, just watching my children eat. I found myself wishing that I could get back there, connected to the simple ordinary stuff of my family’s life. And as I sat and watched, filled with longing and guilt, two questions kept arising: How did I get here? And how am I going to get out of this? There are many stories these days of people who lost their financial bearings during the housing boom and the crisis that followed, but my story is a bit different from most. I’m a financial adviser. I get paid to help people make smart financial choices, and I speak and write about personal finance issues for this publication and others. My first book comes out in January, “The Behavior Gap: Simple Ways to Stop Doing Dumb Things With Money” (Portfolio, a Penguin imprint). The thing that few people know, though, is that I learned a lot of this from experience. I made a bunch of mistakes, the very same ones that I now go around warning people to avoid. So this is the story of how I lost my home, the profound ethical questions that arose along the way, and what my wife and I learned from the mistakes that led us to that point. It made me better at what I do, but it wasn’t much fun getting there. Like most financial stories, this one is personal. It starts with me getting into the financial services industry more or less by accident. I answered an ad in 1995 that I thought was for a job related to “security” (as in security guard) but was in fact related to “securities.” That’s how little I knew about the stock market. A few months later I found myself working a phone at a Fidelity Investments call center. Things went well, and by 1999 I was a Merrill Lynch financial adviser and a certified financial planner. By then, we also owned a house in Salt Lake City. We’d bought it two years earlier, with a $25,000 down payment. A few years later, an opportunity arose to form a partnership with a successful Merrill adviser in Las Vegas. The place was on our top 10 list of never-move-to cities because we had always associated it with the Strip. But Cori and I were looking for an opportunity to have an experience somewhere else, and we met some great people when we visited the city. I took the job, and we moved down there. That was May 2003. Housing prices were already crazy, so we rented. But our neighborhood had zero character and lots of cookie-cutter houses. Within a few weeks, we were looking for a place to buy. I felt we could afford around $350,000. We called a real estate agent named Mitch, who had signs on all the bus stops: Talk to Mitch! He picked us up in a gold Jaguar, and suddenly we were looking at houses that listed at $500,000 or more. It felt a little crazy to be shopping for houses that cost half a million dollars, but my income was growing rapidly. Everywhere I looked, people were being rewarded for buying as much house as they could possibly afford, and then some. There was this excitement in the air, almost like static. I started to think that if I didn’t buy a house right then, I would never be able to afford one. At moments during our house hunt, I felt in my gut that something wasn’t right. We’d go to open houses for $400,000 homes and see lines of couples in their late 20s — younger than we were — waiting to get inside. I kept wondering where all the money was coming from. How did all these people make so much?

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