"If people start to rent, that's when you start to worry," says De Leon's next-door neighbor, Jose Serrano.
Like De Leon, this is Serrano's first house. Like his friend, he is bracing for the future, hoping that even if things get worse now, they'll get better later.
"A lot of people got in over their heads. They are going to lose their homes," Serrano says. "The market goes up and down. You have to look at it for the long term, ride it out."
Good advice, but Perris could be in for a rough trip. Named after a railroad engineer, it began in the late 19th century as a stop on the Barstow-San Diego line. For most of the next century, it was a farming town -- sugar beets, potatoes, alfalfa.
Hustle and gloom
Cheap land drew the developers, and cheap houses drew buyers. The market may have slid over the last year, but the hustle remains. The billboards on the way into town extol 11 active developments. Signs on the city streets point visitors to them. So do curbside salespeople holding oversized arrows, and balloons floating over sales offices.
But many intersections tell a more downbeat story. Telephone poles are festooned with signs that say, "Behind in payments? We can help" or "Foreclosure loan specialist" or "We'll buy your house in nine days or less."
Lily Quinlan is thoroughly exhausted and a lot smarter about real estate than she used to be. Quinlan, 30, just sold her three-bedroom house on a cul-de-sac in one of Perris' older developments.
It went on the market last June, for $395,000. Her first agent reduced it to $383,000, then $375,000, then $369,900. Her second agent dropped it all the way to $333,000, where it finally found a buyer.
While the price was descending, Quinlan's ability to pay the mortgage was becoming intermittent. Her husband left the Navy to start a new job in Florida at a lower salary. World Savings, their mortgage company, started sending default notices.
The couple bought in 2002, as the boom was beginning. At its peak, the house was worth more than three times what they paid for it. But they refinanced and took cash out to do upgrades on the house, and then they refinanced again because -- well, Quinlan isn't sure why.
She's learned this about lenders and loan agents: "They make it look like they are trying to do all this for you, but the reality is that it was mainly for them. They got their chunks out of you, and then they put you out to the wolves."
Even when she was in default over the last few months, the offers continued. "They kept calling and calling, saying, 'You won't have any payments for two months.' And I'm like, 'Dude, the last thing I need is another refinance.' "
She's sorry to be leaving for Florida. If their house had not increased in value, if it was still worth exactly what they had paid for it four years ago, they could afford to stay. But the boom ruined everything, and so Quinlan was selling what she could at a yard sale before packing for the movers.
Some of the clothing and dishware spread on the driveway belonged to her neighbors, Ron and Dawn Blacic. Their house went on the market this week for $369,900.
"The price you got is going to drag down our price," Ron tells Quinlan.
"Thanks, Lily," cries Dawn as she pretends to punch her.
The Blacics, who are moving to Yucca Valley, owe $372,000. They refinanced once, taking out cash to pay for their wedding and other bills. "We figured the value would go up and up, and it didn't," says Ron.
After the agent's cut, the couple will need to bring a check to the table for $22,000 or so to avoid destroying their credit. They're counting on a loan from Dawn's parents.
"We want to purchase another home," explains Ron, who works for a sanitation supply company. "We don't want to wait 10 years until our record is clean again."
If the house sells for their asking price, the Blacics will come out about even on their first real estate venture: First the house dispensed money, then they had to give it back. For them, it will be as if the boom never happened.
On the other hand, if the house doesn't sell immediately, they'll have to rethink their plan. They can borrow only so much.
The onset of the spring home-buying season is a matter of acute concern to the Blacics, as it will be to many others.
On Tuesday, the house in foreclosure across from Oscar De Leon's home will go up for auction.
Public records show the mortgage was held by New Century Financial Corp., the Irvine-based sub-prime lender that collapsed this week amid rising defaults.
De Leon doesn't remember much about the former owners. They had two young kids. The father might have been in construction. They put the house up for sale last fall, barely a year after moving in.
In November, a moving van showed up and the family quietly left. The house stayed on the market; the agent watered the lawn to keep it presentable. Then one day he quit too. The lawn is starting to brown.