Monday, August 17, 2009

Rethinking my trip to the west of Ireland...

In the past, late August was preparation time for a trip to the ancestral home and relatives in the west of Ireland: County Mayo--Westport and a nearby glaciated drumlin in Clew Bay. The entire 46 acres of Inishgowla, where my grandmother lived until age 16, was once too poor to support four families. Look at it now. This cottage is presently the only structure on the island. For sale at a mere 365,000 Euros, roughly half a million USD.

Who knows the current details of ownership? It certainly isn't anyone in our family.

If there's a mortgage on it, it might be wise for the debtor lay low and work on getting current. It's hard to believe that mortgage payments are up to date on this improbable "luxury" dwelling. Ireland, you see, is in deeper financial/real estate travail than many places closer to home--places like Las Vegas and the California Inland Empire.

(Quick change of venue to the west coast of USA.)

My son lives in half of a nice-enough duplex in Los Angeles--Redondo/Manhattan/Hermosa Beach area--right on the PCH, four blocks from the surf. His landlord is a Dubliner who came to California to make money in the real estate. Currently he is renting the duplex to three recent grads of Univ. Wisconsin--well below his costs. He'd bought the place with flipping in mind. He's an engaging fellow; I hope he gets out of it without getting too badly skinned. I met him last month and he told me this story.

(Back to Ireland and its real estate travail.)

Developers/builders/contractors in Ireland had special challenges in the real estate boom. The Irish typically didn't go in droves into the fields of masonry, carpentry, roofing and plumbing. Those that could went to the University, yearned for intellectual pursuits--teaching and, in the days of the Celtic Tiger, high tech and computer systems design (not to mention mortgage banking). Those inclined to workaday labor had traditionally emigrated to the States or Australia, where good union jobs eventually got them to the 'burbs.

So, the Irish had a building boom and too few craftsmen. Enter: the Czechs and Poles. Free movement within the EU permitted a steady and growing population of skilled craftsmen from eastern Europe to craft the fine real estate that became the standard for newly prosperous Irish.

Then, the crash. Immigrant laborers out of work, subsisting on the dole or headed back to Katowice or Ostrava. In either case, it was doubly difficult because they were typically owed thousands of Euros when the developer went bust.

Enter: friendly debt collection services offered by helpful people they met when they arrived back home without a zloty to their names. These skilled collectors would "buy the paper" from the guy who got stiffed, typically paying one third of the face value. Then they'd go to Ireland and track down the developer who had stiffed their "client".

Then, they'd shoot him in the foot; next guy in the knee, the third one in the shoulder. Can't go much higher without moving from mayhem to homicide. Those first few didn't even get a chance to pay up. Since nobody wanted to be next, the rest found a way to pay up.

The Russian Mafia.

"Saints preserve us," as mom might have put it.


1 comment:

johnson said...

friendly debt collection services offered by helpful people they met when they arrived back home without a zloty to their names.

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Of the biblical allotment of three score and ten I have lived only three of them more than a bicycle ride from one of the Great Lakes. I grew up ten blocks from Lake Erie in the (once Irish/Italian ghetto, now newly-hip) "Near West Side" of Cleveland. I can still cycle to the Milwaukee lakefront in an hour and a half; but, a round-trip has always been more than I would (noror ever did) attempt. -0- I'm a "...somewhat combative pacifist and fairly cooperative anarchist," after the example of Grace Paley (1922-2007). -0- I'm always cheerful when I pay my taxes (having refused--when necessary--to pay that portion of them dedicated to war). -0- And I always, always vote.