Don't Drink the Water
As foreclosures mount, backyard pools become health hazards, skate parks.
For the better part of this decade, as many Americans realized their dream of buying a house -- often with little money down -- and the real estate boom cooked to a boiling point, one thing became the must-have symbol of glossy new suburbs: The backyard swimming pool.
Now it's become the symbol for the opposite vision: Suburban decay.
Builders are going out of business and pools are being left to collect mosquitoes as people vacate their McMansions. Former suburban boomtowns in Florida, California and Arizona have become deserted outposts. And in an apocalyptic scene, skateboarders are scouring those wastelands for deserted pools to convert into skate parks, according to a recent New York Times article.
It's an astonishing, and sadly ironic, trend. Skaters are coming to places like Fresno, California from as far away as Germany and Australia, the article reports. Our country triggered a global recession as Wall Street bundled toxic mortgages and sold them worldwide. Now overseas skaters are finding enjoyment over our real estate carcasses.
In California's Central Valley, where thousands of homes are in foreclosure, skaters tote their boards along with pumps, buckets, shovels and brooms in search of foreclosed houses with pools. They use realty-tracking websites and scan through satellite images on Google Earth. They trade tips about how to find and drain abandoned pools on the website skateandannoy.com. One person there wrote, "God bless Greenspan, the patron saint of pool skatin'."
Pool builders had never seen business better than it was just a few years ago. A swimming pool could cost $50,000 to put in. Even though it did little to enhance a property's value, homeowners had to have the big-ticket item. This was big business for Pool Corp (POOL), the leading distributor of pool supplies.
Like every other company selling leisure, the company's shares have tumbled, going from almost $50 in 2006 to around $16 today. At the end of October, the company predicted a larger earnings loss, likely around $0.25, for the upcoming quarter. Pool Corp's only saving grace is that its smaller competitors -- local and regional builders and suppliers -- are going bust.
In Phoenix, where pools might be considered essential, the city has issued fewer than half the number of residential pool permits this year as in 2007. Several large companies have gone under, including Riviera Pools, which once sponsored the swimming pool at Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
One pool builder in north Phoenix was quoted in the Times article as saying business was off between 40% and 70%. Business is also awful in Florida. And in California, officials estimate tens of thousands of pools have been abandoned, even though this could result in fines of up to $1000 per day.
In some states, the authorities are beating skateboarders to the punch, using their own equipment to excavate pools, where rats, algae, dead leaves and more mix. These so-called green pools can become a breeding ground for mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus.
Suburban pools have become literal and metaphorical cesspools.
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