The Wall Street Journal is reporting After the Bubble, Ghost Towns Across America.

The Pfluegers are a bit lonely. Just one other family lives in any of the 28 new or unfinished houses on Foxboro Court. Up the street, a sign announcing “Elegant Homes” sits on a lot choked with weeds. The block is as quiet as an old ghost town.

Some of the projects abandoned by bankrupt developers are in places that were hotbeds of new housing construction: Southern California, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Phoenix. As of July, the percentage of vacant housing stock available for sale or rent stood at 4.8% nationally, the highest figure in at least 33 years, according to Zelman & Associates, a real-estate research firm.

Robert Waltenspiel lives with his wife and two daughters in a unfinished subdivision in Auburn Hills, Mich. Standing in front of his house, he can see more than 30 weed-choked lots where new houses were supposed to go. The developer halted construction more than two years ago. Mr. Waltenspiel’s kids have no one in the subdivision to play with, so he has to take them to a nearby park for social interaction. His 4-year-old “will walk up to strange girls in the park and say, ‘Hey, will you be my friend?’ ” he says. “A, it’s adorable. B, it’s sad.”

Krista Anderson, an administrative assistant, lives in a subdivision outside Phoenix where the developer suddenly halted construction last fall, leaving behind not just unfinished houses but also scaffolding, piles of cement and construction material that “is turning yellow and looks bad.”

“With my art and my books, I don’t need to go outside,” says Miriam Ramirez, who lives with her husband, a retired doctor, in a stalled subdivision in suburban Atlanta. “But not everybody’s like that.”

Real Estate Company of Arkansas, a local outfit, had been so eager to sell units that it raffled off a year’s free rent for one house. On a cold weekend afternoon last December, more than 1,000 people showed up at the subdivision in hopes of winning the prize.

As a marketing effort, the event was a total bust. “We didn’t sell one house,” real-estate agent Michael McKinnon says. “We didn’t get diddly.”

But for the Pfluegers, who won, the outcome appeared to be nothing short of divine intervention. Mr. Pflueger had been out of work for eight weeks. Unable to afford the rent for their $475-a-month apartment, the couple was planning to move into a trailer in their daughter’s back yard.

Now the Pfluegers say they pay close attention to passing traffic, but hardly anybody passes by.

“There’s just no noise,” Mrs. Pflueger said.

When their 12 months end, the Pfluegers will move on too — perhaps to that trailer on their daughter’s property. Mr. Pflueger recently found a job but still can’t afford to buy the house. “That’s way out of my league,” Mr. Pflueger says. Unless someone else moves in, only one family will be left in the 28 houses on Foxboro Court.

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I Have My Books And My Poetry To Protect Me

“With my art and my books, I don’t need to go outside,” says Miriam Ramirez, who lives with her husband, a retired doctor, in a stalled subdivision in suburban Atlanta.

I have my books
And my poetry to protect me;
I am shielded in my armor,
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb.
I touch no one and no one touches me.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

Simon and Garfunkel I Am A Rock

Unable, Unwilling To Move

MarketWatch is reporting Housing slump causes more people to stay put.

Something happened last year in Chicago that hasn’t been seen since 2001: Instead of losing residents, the Second City actually gained population.

According to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, the city’s population rose 0.3% between July 2006 and July 2007. While the growth may look paltry compared with other U.S. cities’, it hints at how the sluggish housing market and the credit crunch is affecting migration trends, demographers say.

Chicago isn’t the only Midwestern city to reverse its growth trend during the period: St. Paul, Minn.; Green Bay, Wis.; Kansas City, Kan.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; and Warren, Mich., also gained residents, according to William Frey, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. In the Northeast, Boston also turned around to post an increase.

In Florida, Miami, Orlando and Tampa saw a substantial slowdown in growth, Frey added. “There’s growth [in Florida], but it’s far less than the growth in the past couple of years,” said Scott Cody, a demographer with the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Florida.

Employees assisted by Prudential Relocation once were flocking to Florida and Arizona, but that’s not the case anymore, said Cindy Salter, executive vice president for global client services at the firm. This year, the top markets that relocating employees are moving to include Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas and Philadelphia, she said.

As home prices have plunged, many homeowners who want to move are staying put instead of selling for less than what they think their homes are worth.

Stricter lending requirements also seem to be enabling larger cities to retain residents. Young would-be homeowners who can’t get a mortgage in order to buy a home in the suburbs may be remaining in the city for now, Frey said.

In addition, higher gas prices might be making larger cities with more sophisticated mass-transit options more appealing — an attitude that could become more permanent if high gas prices become a long-term phenomenon, he said.

I strongly doubt there is much if any growth in Florida as William Frey suggests. The numbers are through July 2007. Housing in Florida has since crashed.

No Sign Of Housing Bottom

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Falling real estate prices, a shrinking job market, and huge segments of the population underwater on the value of their home in comparison to their mortgages are making it very difficult for people to move. Add in rising gas prices and inability or unwillingness for people to commute long distances and it’s no wonder many suburbs have become ghost towns.

Some trapped in suburbia, with no one to sell to and no willing or able buyers, have become their own neighborhood islands.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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