[freedomtowernight_edited.jpg] 26th Parallel: Personal Responsibility

Friday, September 18, 2009

Personal Responsibility

Below is some uncommon Miami Herald-columnist sense today courtesy of James Burnett. I wish more journalists were this honest when it comes to distributing the blame around for the real estate downturn.

Yanira Doyle could easily be a prophetic figure in the South Florida real estate market, and all because she didn't let her eyes get bigger than her stomach.

Before the housing market began to slide sharply downward two years ago, Doyle, then a 26-year-old prospective home buyer who is not psychic, saw the future and weighed her options accordingly:

Buy a gleaming condo in a shiny tower on the beach and fit snugly into the sometimes skewed impressions distant friends and relatives have of South Florida, based on Travel Channel shows -- or buy a place where monthly expenses weren't so high that Doyle couldn't maintain it, pay her other bills, and continue to build a savings account.


Doyle, featured recently on the WLRN FM 91.3 radio show Under the Sun for her uncommon sense, opted for the latter. ``It was a no-brainer to me,'' she says. ``You buy what you can afford.''

Don't scoff at the simplicity of Doyle's logic. Unless you've had your head in the sand for the past couple of years, you know that there are plenty of South Floridians and prospecting interlopers who did just the opposite of Doyle and now find themselves in trouble.

For all the academic and government studies on what went wrong, it can be summed up like this: There is an anti-Doyle attitude pervasive in South Florida, an attitude that says, I can only achieve the American Dream by keeping up with the Joneses . . . even if the Joneses earn more money than me.

The irony is that when it comes to neighborhood trouble, we've had no end to politicians, activists and even clergy urging the public to save our neighborhoods from violent crime because of the harm one violent act can cause to everyone living nearby. But the honest pundits also tell their constituents that government alone isn't the solution. The hearts and minds of perpetrators have to change, too.

So those same authorities should be treating that keeping-up-with-the-Joneses mentality like crime, too. And why not? When homeowners with beer tastes and tap-water budgets stop maintaining and paying for their property, their neighbors' quality of life suffers and property values dive.


Doyle knows this firsthand. A year into being a home owner in the northern end of Miami Beach, she began to notice that maintenance on her building had slipped and garbage wasn't being picked up.

She learned that she alone, among her condo association's eight units, had been paying both her mortgage and association fees.

Doyle could've thrown in the towel, walked away from her condo and fairly blamed that decision on the deadbeats around her. But she decided to stay and fight. And after more than six months of justified nagging, she got her building back in shape by forcing its developer and negligent neighbors to pick up their slack.

``I want the American Dream, too,'' Doyle says. ``But if I try to force something I'm not ready for, then that dream can easily become a nightmare.''


The Miami Herald reported recently that South Florida's real-estate market is showing glimmers of hope. Mortgage rates are lower by more than a point than they were a year ago. Home sales are rising. And home values could begin to creep back up within a year.

That's great news. But unless more would-be homeowners try to keep up with the Doyles, rather than the Joneses, the current, fading cycle of shortsales and foreclosures will repeat itself in a few years.


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