Sept. 15--Matthew Siddall remembers the game very clearly: Just get in. Spend whatever it takes to grab a piece of Orange County real-estate while it was still possible.
"The market was on fire," Siddall recalls of those months in early 2005. "Everyone said, 'It's just going to go up and up and up.' Even though the prices seemed outrageous, we felt like, 'If we don't get in now we're never going to get in.' That was the thinking then. And if you got into the housing market, you were golden."
Siddall and Elizabeth Ann Woods made their move that spring, a year before they got married, plunking down $750,000 for a four-bedroom, two-story house on Hunter Lane in Huntington Beach. This would be their place -- roomy enough for a family, situated near fine parks and schools. The garage would hold a pickup truck and a flashy, charcoal-colored Nissan 350Z. The beach wasn't far away. And though the monthly mortgage, with taxes and insurance, ran close to $5,000, together they were making excellent money -- about $200,000 a year -- and they imagined that affording the home would become easier over time.
That would not be the case. What happened to the Siddalls -- and to the home they cherished -- is one example of how painful the recession was, and how hard it hit so many. A vigorous housing market is always a bit like musical chairs. Five years ago, when the music stopped -- when failing banks and an intractable lending crisis abruptly sent the economy into one of the worst downturns since the Great Depression -- many well-established homeowners were able to sit tight and ride out a slow recovery. Others, because of poor timing, because of risky decisions, were committed to high fixed housing costs even as they lost jobs or their businesses went under.
Rampant foreclosures drove many from their homes into cheaper rentals. Some moved in with relatives or left Orange County altogether.
The Siddalls lost the house in the fall of 2010 after a long, frustrating struggle to modify their loan. They would end up in Temecula, sometimes a 90 minute drive from Matt Siddall's job as a Los Angeles County firefighter based in Hacienda Heights. Their Huntington Beach home would be auctioned off by the bank for $567,000, substantially less than the Siddalls had paid for it. The investment company that bought it, identified by CountyRecordsResearch.com as city of Orange-based Laguna Pacific Professional Sales & Marketing, would remodel the kitchen and make other cosmetic upgrades. The investors would own the property for less than three months before flipping it to the current owners, Todd and Julie Newton, for $680,000 -- or $113,000 more than they paid for it.
The Newtons' timing was far better than the Siddalls'. The Newtons closed escrow in early 2011, as the home's value was again trending upward. The couple figures that the stately, gray-green structure, with its green-marble countertops and leaded-glass windows, is worth significantly more than that now, although the numbers are moot because they have no plans to sell.
"We were very fortunate," says Todd Newton, a financial analyst who grew up in Huntington Beach and now commutes 15 minutes to his job in Irvine. "I have lots of friends [for whom] the timing was just the opposite. It's hard. I feel bad for them getting into the situations they were in, and there's not much they can do about it."
The shame of failure
The stigma of being caught off-guard, of being seen as, in Elizabeth Siddall's words, "one of those irresponsible people . . . who [go through] foreclosure and go bankrupt," weighed heavily on the Siddalls. Matt, 41, who hails from Staffordshire, England, came from a family successful in business. He moved to Irvine as a teenager while his entrepreneur father established a chain of gift shops known as The Mole Hole in the United States.
"We never considered that we would be among the people who couldn't pay their bills -- never in a million years," he says of himself and his wife.
Elizabeth Siddall was an entrepreneur, too. She had started her own company, TLC Cleaning, at