My son got a letter yesterday from one of his best buddies. The letter read, in part, “Moving On. Going to play for the other team.”

We had already found out earlier in the day that two weeks ago, out of nowhere, a woman showed up and decided to buy my son’s friend’s house. His parents had been trying to sell it for more than a year.

The buyer wanted to move in quickly, but delay the closing until next year, so the family quickly scrambled to find a rental in their community, which would allow their kids to start school on time, at the end of August. In two weeks.

Although they knocked on the door of every builder in town who had a house just sitting there, waiting to be sold (waiting for as long as 15 months in some cases), no one would rent to them. “It seems incredible,” the wife told me. “We would pay them money every month so they wouldn’t be out of pocket. In a year they could turn around and sell the house. But they turned us down.”

There were two existing houses for rent in this community, but neither was big enough for this family. So they did what any right-thinking family in the same situation would do — they widened their scope and rented a brand new house from a hard-up developer three suburbs away.

“It’s not our first choice. But we needed to have a place to live and we really wanted to sell,” the wife said, adding that they couldn’t buy another home because their deal was structured to close in 2008, and they didn’t want to be in the position of owning two expensive homes at the same time. Just in case.

It’s a story being played out all over America. Developers sitting on houses they can’t sell because jumbo loans are now as high as 13 percent (according to the New York Times). And anyway, if you rent a brand new house, when it comes time to sell it when the lease is up, it won’t be brand new anymore. That means you might not get as much for it because everyone these days prefers a brand new house. And damn the carrying costs.

It’s a vicious circle — and a tough housing market.

My son is sad that his friend is leaving town. But he’s hoping they’ll at least play in the same travel baseball league next Spring.

August 14, 2007