With paperwork in hand, Ashley Sparks set off in search of his newest target – a 2005 Winnebago motorhome.
The San Diego Union Tribune reported that Sparks, an adjuster for ABA Recovery Service, found the vehicle on a well-manicured street in Point Loma, surrounded by homes nearing the million-dollar mark.
This was an easy one. The owner willingly handed over the keys, and Sparks’ partner drove off in the latest luxury item repossessed by the company.
ABA owner Marcelle Egley-Sparks said that in the past year, high-end repossessions have swelled from about 15% of the 350 items taken by her company each month to about 50%.
“People are finding themselves overextended now that the economy is failing,” Egley-Sparks said.
Leisure-time toys reflect the excesses facilitated by the fat economy and booming real estate values in Southern California of a few years ago. Now that the economy is in decline and the real estate bubble has burst, people are losing or unloading their wants for the sake of their needs.
Egley-Sparks’ adjusters have hooked up and hauled away opulent motorhomes worth $800,000 and powerboats with price tags of $300,000. They’ve picked up travel trailers, dirt bikes, all-terrain vehicles and the trailers used to carry them.
Never in her 28 years in the repossession business has Egley-Sparks seen so many discretionary luxuries being lost to hard times. And it’s happening all across the country, economists and industry analysts say.
Although there are no statistics on luxury repossession, experts say it’s part of the overall rise in the retaking of homes, vehicles and other items from owners who can no longer afford them.
Automobile repossession has soared 20% this year over last year, when nearly 1.7 million vehicles were taken back by lenders, said Tom Kontos, executive vice president for Adesa, a company that sells repossessed automobiles at outlets across the country, including one in Otay Mesa.
“It stands to reason that if we are seeing this kind of increase in the number of automobile repossessions, then there has to be an elevated level of big-ticket repossessions,” he said.
Flashy cars aren’t the only casualty.
More boat owners can no longer afford their vessels, said Eric Leslie, director of marina operations for Harbor Island West Marina.
Although he does not have specific numbers, Leslie said he knows marinas up and down the Southern California coast are seeing a surge in owners giving up their boats. Demand for slips has also declined sharply, Leslie said, though the marina remains more than 90% occupied.
“When people have financial troubles, among the first things they stop paying are things like their boats,” he said.
The super-wealthy are more easily buffered from the economic decline, but it’s the worst of times for middle-and upper-middle-class Americans who splurged on toys in recent years, said David Jones, president of the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies based in Fairfax, Va.
“It’s happening in numbers never seen before,” said Jones, who estimates that 2.25 million Americans sought debt consolidation in the past year, a 20 percent increase over the year before.
The Union Tribune reported that banks, credit unions and other lenders try hard to help people out, rewriting loans or granting extensions, because they’d rather not take the things back, Jones said.
But there comes a time when the economy simply smothers people and the luxury trappings have to go.
For Daniel Rodriguez, that means parting with his beloved 21-foot Weekend Warrior toy hauler. He’s not facing repossession, but he’s desperate to avoid the possibility.
He paid $26,000 for the trailer a couple of years ago, putting $3,000 down and making the monthly payments. Now, with expenses for gas, home maintenance and utilities pressing in, he’ll let it go to anyone who wants to take over the $1,950-a-month payments.
“With the way things are, I have to cut back on some of the enjoyment in order to survive,” the San Ysidro resident said. “The necessities in life come first.”