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Dead-broke debtors dig a way out by selling their burial plots

Dead-broke debtors dig a way out by selling their burial plots
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First Published: Sun, Jan 04 2009. 11 25 PM IST

Grave reality: Saint Johannes Cemetery in Bensenville, Illinois. Many people in America are giving in to financial pressures by selling their burial plots using the Internet, newspaper classifieds or
Grave reality: Saint Johannes Cemetery in Bensenville, Illinois. Many people in America are giving in to financial pressures by selling their burial plots using the Internet, newspaper classifieds or
Updated: Sun, Jan 04 2009. 11 25 PM IST
In an economy on virtual life support, people have been hawking jewellery and furniture to make ends meet. It was only a matter of time before they started selling off burial plots—something they won’t use until the hereafter but whose cash value could keep them afloat in the here and now.
Grave reality: Saint Johannes Cemetery in Bensenville, Illinois. Many people in America are giving in to financial pressures by selling their burial plots using the Internet, newspaper classifieds or private listings. Aynsley Floyd / Bloomberg
“I need the money. Nobody has any money any more,” said health-care marketing specialist Carol Lieberman, whose parents and family are buried at Eden Memorial Park in Mission Hills, where she is trying to sell two adjoining plots.
Lieberman, who grew up in Southern California but now lives in Sarasota, Florida, is one of many people giving in to mounting financial pressures by selling burial plots. In some cases, the sales are breaking up groupings of plots in cemeteries that have marked family trees for generations of Americans.
The economic slump is altering the entire business of dying, increasing the number of cremations, hurting the demand for high-end coffins and funeral services and creating a cottage industry in reselling cemetery plots that financially strapped owners are desperate to unload, experts say.
“People are finding that their burial plot is worth something, and it creates a dreadful dilemma...when times are hard,” said Stan Charnofsky, professor of educational psychology and counselling at California State University, Northridge.
“It’s a decision to make between the history of your family and the current survival of your family.”
“And a lot of people are obviously concluding that it’s more important to survive because you can always buy back your burial plot when times get better.”
People trying to sell their cemetery plots are using everything from Internet sites such as Craigslist and eBay to newspaper classifieds to private listings posted by plot resellers such as Los Angeles-based Plot Brokers, who cite unprecedented business in this poor economy.
“Business is up 9-10 times what it usually is, and, of course, it’s because of the economy,” said Baron Chu, owner of Plot Brokers, which takes burial plots on consignment but also buys plots outright from desperate sellers.
“People who we buy plots from right now are only getting 25 cents on the dollar to what they would have gotten six months ago.”
Just a week ago, an out-of-work 52-year-old Los Angeles woman called his office after being evicted from her home, having her car repossessed and facing life as a homeless person on the streets, he said.
“She had lost everything except the deed to her burial plot,” Chu said. “She got $500 (Rs24,450) to a plot worth $6,800, but it allowed her to move into a hotel for a month where she can live and look for work.
“It kept her out of skid row.”
Most people selling their burial plots haven’t sunk that low, but many view their situation with embarrassment and don’t want to be identified with their circumstances.
One woman, who asked not to be named, became emotionally upset at talking about how the possible sale of her plot meant she wouldn’t be buried with the rest of her family at San Fernando Mission Catholic Cemetery.
“I cannot believe I won’t be buried beside them,” she said.
Some of those selling plots say they plan to downscale their own burial plans in the future-forgoing ornate and expensive caskets, fancy tombstones and even cutting out the limousine rides.
One man selling one of his parents’ two plots said they had decided to use only one and to sell the other.
“My father said he wished to be cremated and have his ashes buried with my mother in her plot,” said John Crayton of Oceanside, who is selling the other burial plot in Rose Hills Memorial Park and Mortuary in Whittier. “So now we don’t need the other one, and the money can always come in handy.”
In Southern California, burial plots—like almost all real estate—cost more than plots anywhere else in the country, with asking prices ranging from $3,000-21,000, depending on location.
In the past, owners of plots have tried to sell them when they moved to other parts of the country or when they got divorced, but plot brokers say they are seeing many people unloading plots because of financial troubles.
Some who need money, such as 68-year-old Sylmar, a security guard who was recently laid off, find that their burial plots offer a good lump sum.
“My father decided to be cremated when he dies because he needs the money from his (burial) plot to live on,” said the security guard’s son, who is trying to broker a deal on eBay for $6,000 or the best offer.
Edward Berreth, who recently moved from the San Fernando Valley to Delano, has been trying to sell four burial plots for months, listing them in newspaper classifieds before turning to plot broker GraveSolutions.com.
“I’m offering a great deal because the money is a good incentive to sell,” he said. “But this isn’t the easiest thing to sell. A burial plot isn’t exactly on anyone’s Christmas-shopping list.”
©2009/the new york times
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First Published: Sun, Jan 04 2009. 11 25 PM IST