Trang Pham was walking away from his home, but he wasn't going far.
To save at least $700 a month, he rented the home across the street.
"You can see it from here," he said from his empty living room. "It's the one with the satellite dish."
For many Pinal County homeowners like Pham, renting is now a better option than owning. In places such as Maricopa, a commuter town about 80 miles from Tucson and 35 miles south of downtown Phoenix, there are plenty of families renting in the same subdivisions where they once owned.
When he bought a home in Maricopa in 2007 for $210,000, Pham, a technician at Intel, put $10,500 down and planned to stay put. But that plan went out the window when his home's value hit about $100,000. He felt he was just throwing away money. Pham and his wife, Young, have a young daughter, Stephanie, and he clearly saw walking away from the mortgage as a survival decision.
"I've got to keep the money so my family can have something," he said.
Pham's decision to walk might have made personal sense, but it's a choice that makes committed Maricopa residents groan.
"When you sign your name to something, you are committed to it," said Heather Susoreny, who put down $180,000 on her Maricopa home and has seen that money disappear in the downturn.
Although he had quit paying on his first mortgage, Pham had stayed current on his second mortgage until this month and still is paying his association fees. He also has jumped through all the usual hoops for distressed homeowners: first, a loan-modification attempt, and then a short sale. He has even verbally agreed to sign a promissory note of $10,000 to his lender, Wells Fargo.
He had hoped this would help move things along, but it hadn't.
In mid-March, foreclosure was looming, so Pham rented across the street. He wanted to leave Maricopa and move to Chandler, but he figured this way he could keep an eye on his old house until things were settled.
In late June, Pham was still in limbo. Wells Fargo had again pushed back the scheduled foreclosure, but he still hadn't heard a final verdict about the short sale. While one division of Wells Fargo had approved it, another one had rejected it. Pham said the stress was taking a toll on him. His blood pressure was up, and he was feeling strain. He wanted to put it all behind him, but couldn't.
"The whole process is just frustrating," Pham said. "It's not getting any better."
Contact reporter Josh Brodesky at firstname.lastname@example.org