Fort Gordon service members struggle with plummeting home prices, mortgage payments

Sunday, April 8, 2012 2:34 PM
Last updated Monday, April 9, 2012 2:24 AM
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Many Americans were struck hard when home prices plummeted around 2007. But for service members such as Sgt. 1st Class Paul Sendi, the struggle was amplified when orders forced them to move.

Sendi bought his first home outside Fort Lewis, Wash., in 2007 to accommodate his growing family. He was still paying down the mortgage in 2010 when he received his “permanent change of station” orders relocating him to Fort Gordon. Confidence he would quickly sell the house gave way to the reality that the home he bought for $278,000 was now worth $180,000.

“It was very frustrating,” he said.

Sendi’s hardship is a common enough problem that Fort Gordon will hold the Army’s first Military Mortgage Assistance Outreach event from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday at the Courtyard on 36th Street. The event brings homeowners together with their bank lenders for immediate assistance and information on the options available on their loans. Active duty service members, veterans and civil service employees working at Fort Gordon are encouraged to attend.

For Sendi, the relocation forced him to leave behind his wife, two daughters and newborn son. He was separated from them for a year while he rented a cheap apartment in Georgia while also paying a mortgage in Washington. His family has since moved to Fort Gordon, but he’s still saddled with the house in Washington.

The risk of a short sale or other drastic measure is that it could hurt Sendi’s credit, and he needs good credit to maintain his security clearance.

That’s also a concern for Capt. Suzanne Keith, who has built an excellent credit score through years of careful maintenance. When shopping for a home, she picked one in Bethlehem, Ga., on which she could pay the note, insurance and taxes using just one income.

“We bought conservatively,” Keith said.

When the housing bubble burst, the house she purchased for $136,000 dropped to $102,000 in value, then plummeted to $88,000 after a foreclosure in the neighborhood. Keith is undergoing treatment for breast cancer at Fort Gordon and cannot live farther than an hour away from her doctors. Keith doesn’t want to do a short sale to unload the house because she can’t afford to pay the taxes.

“I’m stressing out,” she said. “Not only am I dealing with cancer, but we’ve lost all this money on our property.”

Maj. Starria Haigood chose to live at Fort Gordon and commute back to her family in suburban Atlanta when their home wouldn’t sell. But she’s also transferring to Belgium in nine months and the window to sell or rent the house is closing fast. While she already has a good interest rate, it’s her hope Tuesday’s event will provide some new options and information on what to do with the house.

“I’m interested in lowering the amount I owe,” she said. “I hope there’s something that qualifies me for that.”


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