The trouble started before I even drove to Stockton. First off, most of the foreclosed McMansions listed on Craigslist weren’t available for rent, which was understandable enough. (According to a buddy of mine who works as a repo man, there’s some kind of law forbidding banks to rent out property. Plus, it’s a time-consuming game the banks don’t want to get into. They’d rather unload the properties and get them off their books once and for all.) But those that were rentable turned out to be not any easier to rent.
Most of them were put on the market by investors who had recently snapped up the foreclosed properties. I assumed that with such an over-supply of rentals, they’d be scrambling to fill them with tenants on any terms. Boy, was I wrong. Instead of getting the savior treatment, I was told to bugger off once the landlords found out I was looking to rent their house on a month-to-month basis. Not only were these people in no apparent need of cash, they had potential renters lining up out the door.
One woman, the only person who considered me, said she’d rent the place to me if the two families vying for the house suddenly fell through. “But they seemed pretty serious. They’re stopping by in a few hours to drop off the deposit,” she said. In other words, don’t call us, we’ll call you. Another landlord got aggressive on me, sending me a flurry of emails requesting proof of employment, pay stubs and bank account details. He never even bothered picking up the phone when I showed up in Stockton.
Had Kurt Badenhausen, senior statistics editor for Forbes.com, bothered to get off his ass, he’d…well, he wouldn’t be a senior statistics editor. But one thing’s for sure: he’s a tool (he last authored a slideshow called “The World’s Top-Earning Golfers”), but worse, he’s a tool who wasted my time with his bunk attempt at analysis.
I went to Stockton last Saturday. The weather was windy and wet, but the new parts of town on my itinerary were bustling with life. People were out BBQing, middle-aged couples were taking brisk walks on tree-lined sidewalks, long lines of cars queued at red lights and the parking lot of one strip mall/grocery store was at 75% capacity. For Sale/Rent signs were a rare sight, posted on maybe 1 out of 10 homes. At most a third of the properties had a vacant feel to them, with no cars in the driveway, empty garbage cans and shuttered blinds. Thirty percent vacancy isn’t a very good indicator (and explains why property values fell by almost 60%), but it’s not utter collapse either. For every house sitting empty, there were two or three overflowing with humanity and pick-up trucks, not to mention boats, RVs, and more than a few Mercs, BMWs and Lexuses.
Some of the residents were entertaining guests out on their driveway. Despite the sprawling fields and limitless land stretching to the horizon just across the street, houses were placed no more than 5 feet apart and had backyards the size of a large balcony. San Francisco backyards feel like ranches compared to these McMansions. The greedy developers would stop at nothing to squeeze money out of these “commuter developments.” And commuters have no need for backyards. Most of them spend a third of their waking life driving to and from work; they wouldn’t have the time to enjoy them even if they had them. And most of these people are just fine with that.
“Recession or not, these properties are still very desirable,” one of the investor/landlords told me after seeing my shock at the number of renters vying for property in the still-under-construction neighborhood called Weston Ranch. “There were a lot of foreclosed properties here last year, but many of them have since been bought. We’re only one and a half hours from San Francisco and less than an hour from Sacramento.” (She lied; It was more like three and a half and two during rush hour.) But no matter what, Stockton’s future as a commuter paradise remains certain.
Meanwhile, my search for the shit continues. Next stop: Victorville, CA.
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