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THE MORTGAGE MELTDOWN

Slowdown hits home -- his own

August 11, 2007|Annette Haddad, Andrea Chang and Daniel Yi | Times Staff Writers

MICHAEL MATHIS

House appraiser

Home appraiser Michael Mathis bought a Redlands fixer-upper in 2003 with hopes of turning it into a 9,000-square-foot dream house. Now, he wonders whether he'll have the money to see his plan become reality.

Mathis, 52, bought the home when the housing market was on fire and he was doing as many as 20 estimates a week. His income soared into the mid-six figures. Now his pay has fallen to less than $75,000 a year, and he is lucky to do even a dozen appraisals a month. What's more, his work has convinced him that things will get worse before they get better.

"I don't see anything positive happening in this market until effective demand picks up -- and prices come down," he said.

Mathis the appraiser understands that the real estate market is cyclical and that good times will return. But Mathis the homeowner, who has borrowed heavily to finance his dream, worries about being overextended on his under-construction home and the one he is living in but trying to sell.

That home, also in Redlands, has been on the market since December. He's cut the price twice in hopes of getting an offer. "I've already lost $80,000 more than I planned," he said.

Weekend getaways with his wife to Las Vegas have been eliminated and dinners out have turned into trips to the local fast-food joint.

All this has forced Mathis -- whose sense of fun led him to name his business AAI Services, for Appraisers Are Insane -- to think of ways to cultivate new business. He recently managed to line up an appraisal of his mother's church. And he is starting to pick up appraisal business from lenders that have foreclosures they need to sell.

"This is the darkest moment I've ever gone through, but compared to other people who really suffer in this world, how can I complain because I'm not making more money right now?" Mathis said. "I just need to keep it in perspective."

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