July 27, 2007 — -- In Sacramento, Calif., not far from where prospectors sought quick riches in the gold rush more than a century ago, another speculative boom is going bust.
This time, however, it's not the lure of precious metals -- it's real estate.
"The market was hot, and I decided to give it a shot," said Casey Serin, a modern-day speculator who hoped to strike it rich quick by buying homes, fixing them up and then flipping them for a profit.
Serin said he has always had an entrepreneurial spirit. Born in Uzbekistan, the 24-year-old came to the United States with his family in 1994 and became a U.S. citizen nine years later.
After graduating from high school, he found a full-time job as a Web site programmer. But Serin was always interested in starting his own business.
In particular, he was drawn to real estate. So Serin attended real estate seminars and bought how-to CDs, DVDs and books.
"My first set of seminars was $15,000," he said. He was hooked, eventually spending nearly $35,000 on what he calls his real estate education.
"I kept spending because I thought, 'I need more education,'" Serin said.
And after he made a profit buying and selling one property, he eventually jumped into the real estate boom that was gripping the nation.
"My first deal was $30,000. I got a bit of euphoria. I thought I could do this more and more. Exuberant feelings led me to buy more property."
Starting in 2005 Serin went on a real estate shopping binge, buying eight homes in eight months in four different states. Along the way, he quit his job to devote himself full-time to real estate investing.
In October 2005, he bought one home in Sacramento, then another one in January 2006. The next month, he purchased two properties in New Mexico. Next, he closed on a home in Modesto, Calif. In March 2006, he bought a home, sight unseen, in Utah as well as another in California.
In May of that year, he bought a home in Dallas, the same way he bought the house in Utah -- sight unseen.
In all, he acquired eight homes over eight months, and a lot of debt.
"In total I was $2.2 million in debt between mortgages and unsecured lines of credit and credit cards," said Serin.
"It was a very tough thing to face."
Serin's problems started when the home repairs often took longer than expected.
"My goal was always to fix up the house and resell it for profit quickly," he said, "say within three to four months. [The] problem is three to four months turned into six months, and then my money ran out, and I couldn't finish fixing it."