READ THE FULL STORY: Craigslist ads reveal homeowners' woes

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It's there if you look, coded into the swirls and whorls of the civic fingerprint that is Craigslist, a hidden narrative of lives dissolving. No big headlines here, no billion-dollar corporations seeking bailouts. It's just you and me, the little people, the laid-off people, swamped by the growing financial crisis and going broke in plain sight.

Brand new VW bug -- take over payments.

For as long as it has been around, Craigslist has been both marketplace and mirror, reflecting the public mood. In the boom-boom land rush of the last few years, everyone, it seemed, had a home to remodel. The online bazaar was an HGTV fantasy gone wild, with Wolf ranges and Bosch dishwashers and double-wide fire-clay farmhouse sinks to be had for a song. There were sectional sofas, barely used, Shabby Chic bedding still in its box. The ads were breezy, and buyers were plentiful. You had to jump on the good stuff or it would be gone.

Grandma's wedding china for sale, cheap.

It's a different story today, quite literally. Craigslist ads now tell the tales of lost jobs and lost security, of pinched budgets and ballooning debt. It's filled with decent people who find themselves on the verge of calamity. So they're looking through their houses and poking through garages, offering up for sale anything that might bring in a few spare dollars, might buy another month or maybe two. It's trickle-down economics, plain and simple.

PhD in history. Will tutor, $12 an hour.

For Jennifer Campana, a single mom living in Tarzana, the trouble started when she was laid off by a midsize entertainment public relations firm in July.

"I was completely blindsided," Campana said. "At the time they cut me, I was the only one. Within a month, the rest of the layoffs had started."

Campana filed for unemployment and used the checks to pay her mortgage. Gas and groceries went on a credit card, the balance of which now tops $16,000. As the clock on her benefits ran down, she struggled to find new work. She'd land an interview, get dressed up, gas up the car, drive across town, pay to park and, after meeting with the hiring director, learn there wasn't a job after all.

"They'd tell me, 'There's a lot of talent out there, and we're just collecting résumés,' " she said. "That's happening a lot. They're not exactly honest about it, but what can you do?"

What Campana wound up doing was combing her house for anything she could sell to raise cash. Small items, easily shipped, she offered on EBay. With the U.S. dollar so weak, she found herself selling and sending her possessions to international bargain hunters. A DVR player was quickly snapped up by someone in South Korea. An antique candy dish found a new owner in England.

Craigslist has produced mixed results. Her furniture, when it sells at all, goes for a fraction of its previous value. But ads she placed for baby-sitting, for ferrying children to and from school and play dates, have brought a bit of work.

"I haven't done any baby-sitting since I was 15 years old," Campana said. "But this is what I'm doing right now, selling my things, doing everything I can."

my 11 yr old son and i lost our apt due to being laid off my job. we are currently tent camping at state beach and need shelter. anyone that can help or possibly donate would be appreciated. john

People who have worked their entire lives are finding themselves not just jobless, but without prospects. The ads they post to Craigslist as they sell their prized possessions read like love letters.

Rob in West Covina is selling his cherried-out '68 Mercury Cougar for $4,300. His Craigslist ad has so much detail -- "1406 four barrel carb with matching Edelbrock intake . . . Screw in studs, roller rockers, taller valve covers" -- it's equal parts sales pitch and requiem.

"I hated to list this car, but I was laid off a couple of months ago," Rob wrote. "I am 45, and for the first time in my life, I have had to resort to selling my tools, and now I am forced to part with my Cougar."

Tracee J., meanwhile, who used to earn a good living selling cars and vans adapted for people with disabilities, faces losing her house. Soon after she was laid off last year, she learned more about the mortgage on her condo in the Hollywood Hills. She trusted her real estate agent, she said, and at his urging signed on for a five-year adjustable interest-only loan.

"Stupid," she said. "I didn't know what I was doing."

Then the recession hit her employer, and Tracee lost her job. She filed for unemployment and went out on interviews. No luck. As benefits ran out, she launched Accomplished With Tracee J, a shot at being a professional organizer.

But business is slow, and mortgage payments are huge, so Tracee J. is selling her possessions. Or trying to. Her grandmother's china, a set of pristine Spode, is for sale, not a serious buyer in sight.

"It was a wedding gift to my grandparents from their parents," she said. "Four generations in the same family."

Tracee's asking $2,500. She's been offered $900. It's insulting, but she understands. "Who's spending $2,500 for china right now?" she asked. "Who has that kind of spare cash?"

So far, selling her furniture -- she got $1,400, about 10% of what she thought it was worth -- has kept Tracee afloat. This month, anyway.

"I've worked all my life," Tracee said. "I never imagined anything like this would be happening today. I may have to sell my home."

And until then?

"I'm just trying to be positive, thinking that I've been through tough times before and landed on my feet," Tracee said. "Really, I have to think that way because, otherwise, I'd be a wreck."

home@latimes.com

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