Photo by Joseph Rodriguez
Profiles: No plans to retire
Thursday, July 21st, 2011
The Investigative Reporting Workshop and New America Media profiled those hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis in communities of color.
SAN FRANCISCO — It took Susie Ku and her husband, Jung Ku, more than 30 years to save the $100,000 needed for the down payment on their first home in Sacramento. Now with their life savings gone, the two are again renting a home in the same San Francisco neighborhood they thought they’d left behind.
“Stupid,” mutters Jung Ku, 68, said the former mechanic.
The couple, along with two grown sons, now lives in the residential Sunset District neighborhood they had lived in since arriving in the United States from their native South Korea in 1977.
“We bought a four-bedroom house in Lake Thomas in December of 2005,” recalls Susie, 62, speaking of the home she and her husband purchased for $430,000 in a new development near Sacramento. The two, who operate a convenience store in San Francisco’s financial district, had hoped to retire there.
Unlike many homebuyers at the time who took advantage of the overheated market to purchase houses with close to nothing down, they opted to pay a 20-percent down payment, using the husband’s 401(k) to cover a portion of the cost. “Now with his retirement funds gone, we’ll probably have to work for the rest of our lives,” says Susie.
The pair spent five years paying down their mortgage on the Sacramento home, which amounted to close to $3,000 a month, while continuing to pay rent on the same San Francisco house where they’d raised their three sons. “We also had to cover business-related costs, relying more and more on our credit cards to get by,” says Susie. “It was terrifying, especially after the value of our home dropped by more than half in 2008.”
In order to defray some of their expenses, the two initially rented out the new Sacramento house, while continuing to work in San Francisco. “That was a disaster,” says Susie. “The family we rented to couldn’t afford the payments after the father lost his job. After they left, we had a hard time finding another renter.”
In 2010, the Kus made the decision to cut their losses via a short sale, holding on to the possibility of re-entering the housing market in the future.
In the meantime, they continue to run the corner market they’ve operated for the past 20 years, looking for ways to bring in more money. “We’ve still got a lot of debt to pay off,” says Susie, “both from our home loan and from the credit card bills that piled up over the course of several years.”
“We work 14-hour days, five days a week,” says Jung, as he prepares to work on a friend’s car that is sitting in their driveway. It’s 7 p.m. “He’s left the mechanic business behind, but friends still ask him for favors,” said their son Tom.
“Like a lot of immigrants, my parents saw owning their own home as part of the American Dream,” the younger Ku said. “They shouldn’t have bought when they did, but they haven’t given up on their dream. They’ll try again.”