The San Diego Union-Tribune is reporting The Economy is forcing many to let go of luxury toys.

With paperwork in hand, Ashley Sparks set off in search of his newest target – a 2005 Winnebago motor home.

Sparks, an adjuster for ABA Recovery Service, found the vehicle on a well-manicured street in Point Loma, surrounded by homes nearing the million-dollar mark.

This was an easy one. The owner willingly handed over the keys, and Sparks’ partner drove off in the latest luxury item repossessed by the Grantville company.

Egley-Sparks’ adjusters have hooked up and hauled away opulent motor homes worth $800,000 and powerboats with price tags of $300,000. They’ve picked up travel trailers, dirt bikes, all-terrain vehicles and the trailers used to carry them.

Never in her 28 years in the repossession business has Egley-Sparks seen so many discretionary luxuries being lost to hard times. And it’s happening all across the country, economists and industry analysts say.

More boat owners can no longer afford their vessels, said Eric Leslie, director of marina operations for Harbor Island West Marina.

Although he does not have specific numbers, Leslie said he knows marinas up and down the Southern California coast are seeing a surge in owners giving up their boats. Demand for slips has also declined sharply, Leslie said, though the marina remains more than 90 percent occupied.

Buzz Gibbs, owner of Montgomery Field’s Gibbs Flying Services, said he’s seeing the same pattern. “I’ve had more of my customers dispose of their airplanes than before,” he said.

The super-wealthy are more easily buffered from the economic decline, but it’s the worst of times for middle-and upper-middle-class Americans who splurged on toys in recent years, said David Jones, president of the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies based in Fairfax, Va.

“It’s happening in numbers never seen before,” said Jones, who estimates that 2.25 million Americans sought debt consolidation in the past year, a 20 percent increase over the year before.

Boom Time For Repo Man

From Yachts To Luxury Autos, Loans Go Unpaid As The Economy Struggles. It’s a Boom Time For Repo Man.

Though the struggling economy means hard times for most people, it’s a godsend for the repo man, the person who shows up — often unexpectedly — to snatch your property when you’re behind on payments.

Fort Lauderdale boat repossessor and auctioneer National Liquidators, business has tripled in the last 18 months as higher maintenance fees, fuel and docking costs — as well as the real estate crisis — have put boat owners behind on payments.

The same is true for those repo (short for repossession) men — and a few women — who spend their days and nights hunting and snatching luxury cars and SUVs from distressed owners.

“Before the house, everything else goes,” says Clarke, a former navy engineer who has never seen more boats in five years on the job. He has taken small motorboats, sailboats and multimillion-dollar yachts. For the 63-footer he takes on this day, its loan hasn’t been paid for months, with $200,000 overdue.

Along with nine other agents, the company recovers up to five boats daily throughout Florida. Each is listed online for auction within a week; most are bought by foreigners.

Gas, economy drown Delta boating

InsideBayArea is reporting Gas, economy drown Delta boating.

Brian Riley of Martinez, a day trader, once lived for his twice-monthly boating trips to Bethel Harbor for cruising, wakeboarding and relaxing. But now, with the cost of gas, “I’m lucky if I get there once a month,” Riley said.

And there hangs the economic fate of California’s Delta, which comprises roughly 1,000 miles of navigable waters from Pittsburg to the west, to Courtland to the north, to Stockton to the east, then on to Tracy and back to Pittsburg.

As prices for fuel hover close to $5 a gallon at marinas, the marine industry in the Delta is sinking.

“The whole Delta economy is based around boating,” said Jamie Bolt, harbormaster of Bethel Harbor marina. As gas prices soared, business at marinas, bait-and-tackle shops, boat dealerships, restaurants and repair shops plummeted.

“We’ve been here for 30 years and have seen the ups and downs of the area, but it has never been this bad,” said Harriet Russo of Capra Quarius Marine Boatworks repair service in Bethel Island. “People aren’t taking their boats out. They can’t afford the gas.”

“We judge what’s going on in the economy on how many people are using our launching ramp,” said Christian Lauritzen, harbormaster of Lauritzen Yacht Harbor in Oakley. “A normal Saturday would be 40 boats. Now, we’re launching 15 to 25 boats.”

The boating industry makes a substantial contribution to California’s economy. The state is third in the nation in boat, motor, trailer and accessory sales, with retail sales hitting $820 million in 2007.

“That figure will probably be down in 2008,” said Ellen Hopkins of the National Marine Manufacturers Association. California and Florida already have posted the biggest declines in boat sales in the United States.

Frugality is the new reality. For many it is a forced event.

Also notice the potential downward spiral effect on marina owners. Fewer boat sales and decreasing willingness to splurge on gas means less marina business. Deflation is going to hit the value of marinas. Any marina owners who were struggling before are not going to survive now.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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