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The 0.4 percent horror

by Kirk Ross

I was just a kid when it happened, and I can’t imagine what it was like to experience it, let alone live through it. But driving through what is left of Cary, with its dark, crumbling cul-de-sacs and boarded up split-levels, you get a feel for the devastation of 2007. Like Smoot-Hawley, the impact of the real estate transfer tax had consequences far beyond the reckoning of politicians and it brought down a surging, vibrant economy in one swift act of legislation. It’s not like they weren’t warned. I got a glimpse of the beginning of the end times at Ray’s Number Two, a little dive in a corner of a former Bed, Bath and Beyond in an almost deserted mall. I was downing a sweet tea and shaking off the summer heat when an old guy in a tattered gold blazer wandered in. He ordered a gin fizz. “You still in the biz?” asked him. “Nah, lost it all in the collapse,” he said. “Musta been something,” I said. He took a long draught and looked straight ahead. “It was mayhem,” he said, then turned to look me in the eye. “Son, may you never experience the horror of what we went through. It wasn’t a month after Jones Street did us in, that word got around that North Carolina had imposed a transfer tax and it was going to add a whole 0.4 percent to the price of a home. All sorts of folks who were fixin’ to move here said ‘the heck with that, we can do better in all but 33 other states.'” He took a slug off his gin fizz. “The gas came out of the economy in a hurry – fastest growing market in the country and then nuthin’. Pop. Ghost town. I was in the middle of selling a four-bedroom in Apex to a couple from Ohio.” He kinda choked up a bit, then added: “I never heard from them again.” “That’s sounds tough,” I said. “It was like losing a brother,” he said. He survived, he said, thanks to a small pension and a few generous friends, but others didn’t have it so good. People on the verge of selling panicked. “Some folks just couldn’t take it and flung themselves out the window,” he said. “Fortunately, most of their homes were just one or two stories, but it did mess up a lot of azaleas.” We talked some more about the bright and shining promise the state once offered and how the tipping point is sometimes closer than you realize. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a beat-up red pickup pull up. A tired looking lady in faded Capris got out and wandered into the place. The bartender gave her a wave. “Usual, Angie?” he said. She nodded as she pulled up a stool next to the trivia game and he pulled down a bottle of Old Crow and poured her a double.

Kirk Ross travels the state for CapeFearMecury.com and writes about state governance at ExileOnJonesStreet.com. He can be reached at editor@capefearmercury.com.

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