Paul and Nannette Dillon look forward to the day that their divided household is reunited.
For the past four months, the Sylvania Township residents have been separated by 135 miles and a sluggish real estate market where unsold houses continue to pile up.
"It's awful for a family to have to be separated because of the housing market," complained Nannette, an upbeat 36-year-old mother of four young children who has made a full-time occupation of helping her real estate agent try to sell the family's immaculate Tudor-style residence.
She and the children live on Jamesford Drive in the family's $240,000 house. Her husband, a corporate executive in supply chain management, lives in a rented room near his new job in Akron.
And the Dillons' predicament is not unique.
The region's weak economy and glut of unsold homes have conspired to create a situation where the lives of many families have become a tale of two cities.
"A lot of people are doing what the Dillons are doing - living in two residences," said Gail Zeisloft, a consultant with Toledo human resources consulting firm Right Management.
Hard estimates showing the extent of the problem were unavailable.
But examples roll off the tongues of local professionals who work with workers - typically mid-level corporate executives and other professionals - arriving in the Toledo area or departing for jobs elsewhere.
"There are quite a few people who are in that boat or about to face it," said Ms. Zeisloft.
She passed the phone to an administrative assistant, whose husband is settling into a new job in human resources consulting in North Carolina while his wife stays in Springfield Township awaiting the sale of their $215,000 house purchased just a year ago.
"It's nerve wracking," confessed Tina Carmichael, 41.
"He's under a lot of stress with his new job. When you're with someone everyday, you feel you have someone on whom you can unburden that stress load. Even though we talk and e-mail everyday, it's not the same."
Even if the house doesn't sell, she plans to join her husband, Roy, in North Carolina at the end of March.
Mr. Carmichael's employer provides temporary housing, so the couple doesn't have the added expense of an apartment or hotel room in North Carolina.
When she visits for the weekend or he returns to metro Toledo for brief visits, they spend most of their time house-hunting and tending to other details of relocation.
The Dillions keep shoe covers by the door to keep their home's floors clean for potential buyers.
In the two months their home has been for sale, they've had 10 lookers and one offer.
"It was ridiculous - like $50,000 less than we were asking," Ms. Carmichael said.
About 7,750 houses were unsold in northwest Ohio last month, up slightly from February, 2007, according to the Toledo Board of Realtors. Among properties that did snag a buyer in February, 45 percent were up for sale four months or longer.
Sales agents point out, however, that Toledo isn't the only place with sluggish home sales. The housing market is tough nationwide. And while sellers may have to accept less than they had hoped, they are likely to get a break on homes in cities to which they're relocating.
Some owners unable to sell rent their homes or selling them in lease-to-own transactions.
Many families across the country are in the same predicament as the Dillons, said Christopher Bloezel, a consultant with Runzheimer International in Rochester, Wis.
Part of the problem, he said, is that fewer firms are buying houses from transferred employees because of difficulty re-selling them. Firms that continue the practice are often being forced to hold the homes for up to seven months while paying for upkeep and improvement costs that can approach $10,000 a month, the consultant said.
In response to the nation's housing crisis, some firms have extended the time that transferees are allowed to stay in company-provided temporary housing.
Other firms are forgoing certain transfers altogether, instead sending employees on long-term temporary assignments to cities where they are needed.
So far, turmoil in the housing market isn't causing employees to refuse transfers at Owens Corning, a Toledo Fortune 500 company that makes building products and glass-fiber material used in everything from windmill blades to snow skis.
"We continue to aggressively hire and relocate employees," spokesman Jason Saragian said. The number last year totaled about 200 across the United States. OC employs 20,000 people, including about 950 locally.
Like many firms, the Toledo company buys homes of transferred executives who are unable to sell, the spokesman said. However, the benefit isn't extended to new hires.
Owens-Illinois Inc., a bottle-maker based in Perrysburg, offers a similar benefit. But the benefit is under study as part of a routine review of employee relocation practices. There has been no decision to drop the benefit, a spokesman said.
U.S. companies that buy houses from employees transferred to other cities are frequently having difficulty re-selling the properties, according to industry experts.
Chicago-based Sirva International Inc., which provides employee relocation services for companies nationally, had about 800 unsold homes in its inventory at the end of September. That was up 59 percent from the prior year. The firm filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last month.
Many employers are dropping home-purchase programs, said real estate agent Joe Mathias who specializes in helping transplanted executives find homes and temporary accommodations in the Toledo area.
Still, transfers remain strong at companies based in metro Toledo and with major operations here. He and colleague Lance Tyo, both of ReMax Preferred Associates in Toledo, assisted 35 to 45 transplants last year. Clients include Phoenix-based First Solar Inc., whose lone U.S. plant is in Perrysburg Township.
In the past, new arrivals would often buy a home here before selling their residences elsewhere. "Now people are a little more cautious about owning two homes than they were a couple years ago." In response, Mr. Mathias supplies more information about options for temporary housing.
Mrs. Dillon, the Sylvania Township woman whose husband landed a job in Akron, works hard to dream up strategies for selling her house.
To make prospective buyers feel welcome, she lays out a spread of seductively arranged pastries. An electronic tour of the house plays on the family's home computer.
And as recommended by home-staging professionals, she has removed most of the family's personal possessions. She provides shoe covers for visitors to tour the house in the wintry weather without leaving snow or other marks.
Sales agents who bring potentials buyers through are sent little cards resembling baseball cards created by Mrs. Dillon. Under a photo of the residence, the cards state: "Beautiful home, great neighbors and neighborhood, Sylvania Township, Sylvania Schools "
Still, she has been disappointed by the level of interest in the four-bedroom home. About 10 prospective buyers have scheduled tours since it went up for sale in November. Three open houses drew an additional 15 prospects. Just two couples showed up for the most recent showing.
Once her husband accepted the Akron offer, she was eager to get the house on the market. She wanted a for-sale sign in the yard for Thanksgiving weekend when many out-of-towners are in the area visiting relatives.
But even as the sign was pounded into the ground, she secretly hoped that no one would actually want to see the house during the busy holiday weekend.
She need not have worried. The first tour request wasn't until January.
There have been no offers.
The reasons are hardly a mystery: too many unsold houses in the same price range and buyer fears that they won't be able to sell their existing homes, Mrs. Dillon said.
A year ago, the couple, whose children are 9, 8, 6, and 4, had no intention of leaving metro Toledo. He was happy in his job as a supply chain executive at Masco Corp. His office was in Taylor, Mich., but he was on the road most of the time and spent only a couple days a week in Taylor.
In Sylvania Township, they had built a nice life. They were happy in their home, Neighbors were friendly. The kids were involved in scouting.
But then Masco, which has been hurt by the housing downturn, informed Mr. Dillon that his job was being eliminated.
Mr. and Mrs. Dillon spent the next eight months nervously hunting for a job with similar responsibilities and pay. They interviewed with three Toledo firms, but none was actively looking for someone with Mr. Dillon's background. He is 46, and possesses a master's degree in business.
He eventually got three offers, and decided on Myers Industries Inc., a plastics products producer in Akron.
He doesn't regret the decision.
The family's living arrangement is another matter.
"I get home Friday night, have a couple days with my family, and then head out early Monday morning," he said. "There's stress."
Mrs. Dillon spends a lot more on baby-sitters and has had to adjust to loading the whole crew into the car for brief errands. The children aren't happy about the arrangement. "Their conversation with their dad is on the phone once a day," Mrs. Dillon said.
She and her husband communicate continuously throughout the day by phone and Internet. Still, she said, "It's a roller coaster."
"You cry," she said laughing, but only half facetiously.
The Dillons have decided that, sale or no sale, she and the children will move to Akron this summer.
While she is unhappy about her predicament, Mrs. Dillon recognizes her problems are much less severe than families facing foreclosure and other more serious fallout from the housing crisis.
"There are people who are so less lucky than we are," she said.
Contact Gary Pakulski at:
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