Saturday, January 5, 2008

Where I'm going to live when I get home?

Where I'm going to live when I get home?

-Billy Ray Cyrus (known forever as Hanna Montana's dad)

It's 2 am on New Year Eve (actually New Years Day) and I am watching a man frantically move out of his rental house.

It is the end of the month, on a cold, windy and miserable night. The guy is loading a truck as fast as he possibly can load.

I suspect that the landlord's New Year's will start finding that the tenant skipped out.

I wonder how many times that the scenario will play out around the country this year.

We have heard a lot about people who can't pay their "sub-prime" mortgage and can't afford their home. We don't hear much about renters.

Sub-prime borrowers make up a small part of the housing market. Some homeowners are hurting but the people crying the loudest are big Wall Street financial firms who got greedy and stupid.

Companies like Citi and Merrill Lynch made dim-witted decisions. Those decisions only effected the sub prime marketplace. It has no correlation to the man doing the 2 am furniture run in a snowstorm.

When you skip out on your rent, it usually means you are out of money.

A big portion of the country lives in rental housing. With gasoline, food and heating prices rising, they are feeling pinched. If they work in housing or construction, they are really hurting.

I've owned or rented a home for 30 years. I've never been late on a rent or house payment. It is the only type of payment I have never been late on.

When I was in graduate school in 1981, I had $10 a week to spend on food. I ate one meal a day, used lots of coupons (I didn't know how to cook) but made the rent each month.

When I started my business, times were very tough and I maxed out every form of credit I could find. They turned off the gas in my apartment. For 3 months, I had to take cold showers and use paper plates. I didn't have heat (it was summer) or hot water but I paid the rent on time.

I knew where I was going to live when I got home. I was never going to take a chance on losing it.

Not everyone stresses the importance of paying their rent like I do.

I briefly owned an upscale rental home and got burned on the deal. The renter was a corporate executive with nice furniture and a brand new (leased) Audi. He gave me a sad story the first month. The second month he skipped town in the middle of the night.

I got a judgment against him for the balance of the lease and spent the next 15 years trying to collect. He moved in an underground world. I got his wages garnished for a week in Nashville so he moved to another state. I lost touch for a few years until he made national headlines for jumping in a lake and saving a child's life.

Good for the child. Not so good for the deadbeat hero. I was able to attach another paycheck before he moved again.

The guy had nicer furniture than I did. He wanted to live in nice places. He just didn't want to pay for them.

When I watch someone moving in the middle of the night, I don't know the real story. I don't know if it is someone who is unemployed or at the end of their financial rope. I don't know if it someone who can't handle money or in a house too expensive for them.

It could be the man is moving to a nicer place and chose 2 am on New Year's Eve as the best time to make it happen.

He could be a sign of economic blight or just be a guy with strange moving habits.

Whatever his motivation, where he is going to live when he gets home will be different this year.

Don McNay is Chairman of McNay Settlement Group and author of Son of Son of A Gambler: Winners, Losers and What to Do When You Win The Lottery. You can write to him at and read his award winning column at

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