May 14, 2007 4:00 AM PDT
Casey Serin: The world's most hated blogger?
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With scant income, assets, or business savvy, the would-be real-estate mogul managed to purchase eight homes in hopes of reselling them at a profit. Along the way, he's lost all of them, run up some $170,000 in credit card and credit line debt, and launched iamfacingforeclosure.com to share his woes with the world. (Editor's note: Serin's site was intermittently reachable Monday.)
Financial exhibitionism, coupled with a lack of penitence for stiffing his creditors, has transformed the 24-year-old resident of this sleepy Sacramento suburb into a celebrity among fellow bloggers. But unlike other online celebrities, Serin's stardom comes from a unique source: "haters" who patronize his blog solely to learn what financial missteps he's made today.
"A community formed overnight," Serin said in an interview. "It wasn't a very positive community."
Since launching his Web site last September, Serin has discovered that it can be profitable to outrage and annoy the thousands of people who visit his blog every day. He estimates he was making up to $1,000 a month through Google ads and believes he's on track to make even more through Yahoo's ad network. His notoriety has led to appearances on Suze Orman's and Robert Kiyosaki's advice shows, and he says he's working on a book and advice packet that he'll sell online.
Through planning or dumb luck, Serin has managed to capture an audience by severely irritating many disparate groups: those who blame him and fellow speculators for the housing bubble; devout Christians, who urge him to follow the Bible more closely; and others who are hoping for news that his creditors are suing him and that his petite, attractive wife Galina is divorcing him.
Serin makes it all public, including financial spreadsheets and bank statements, frank admissions that he lied on mortgage applications, and, more recently, his marital strife with Galina. Because her husband has refused to get a job since January 2006, the couple has been forced to move in with relatives and Galina cleans houses to pay for their food and rent.
As a result, the tell-all blog entries have drawn the same kind of highly attentive crowd that might assemble to watch a train wreck in progress. "I guess I'm an open, kind of exhibitionist personality," Serin said.
His legions of critics use less flattering terms. The HousingPanic blog calls Serin "the physical representation of fraud, greed, debt, fear, bubbles and human folly." Another says Serin is "slothful, arrogant, unable to plan, unable to make decisions, easily overwhelmed."
Hating Serin has become something of a sport among bloggers, who compete with each other to post the most biting critiques of his financial missteps. No fewer than four Serin-hating sites have cropped up, and many others poke fun at how he paid tens of thousands of dollars for real-estate investing courses, ran up $2.2 million in debt by buying houses on credit, and then lost most of them to foreclosure (others were sold at a loss, and Serin estimates he owes an additional $100,000 to $250,000 to the banks to cover those losses).
There's even the sine qua non of a Net-celeb: a Casey Serin Dance Remix mocking his favorite sayings. Doctored photo galleries include images depicting Serin as, alternatively, Gilligan from Gilligan's Island, and McDonald's Hamburglar character. He's already been called a "national obsession."
"Everyone has an opinion and anyone can speculate," said Rob Dawg, who runs a popular anti-Serin Web site called Exurbannation. "Is he mentally ill? Mentally feeble? Do his bizarre personal habits affect his judgement or vice versa?" Dawg wrote in e-mail on Friday. "On and on. For many of us, however, Casey has become the eye of the storm, not the storm itself."
Serin has not filed for bankruptcy, though he has publicly mulled the option. For now, he believes himself to be effectively judgment-proof, with his only significant asset being a run-down Volkswagen Jetta that recently was broken into.
Readers who love to hate
The tension between Serin and his so-called haters has led to an unlikely situation: the very people who loathe him the most also rely on him for a daily source of entertainment.
The concept is sometimes called "irritainment," defined as: "Entertainment and media spectacles that are both annoying and compulsively watchable." (The O.J. Simpson trial in 1995 is the most famous example. Perez Hilton's blog may be another.)
Against their better judgment, some haters have become financial supporters. In March, when Serin was facing a collection agency called CashCall, known for hardball tactics, Serin held a "beg-a-thon" trying to raise $220.48 by the next day.
It worked. Readers paid money to get him to answer personal questions, such as explaining why his wife dropped out of college. Someone even paid Serin $250 for the opportunity to rant to him for an hour about financial responsibility.
"I was amazed that the so-called haters were willing to spend money on me," Serin said. "It shows that they're not really haters. They're in it for the entertainment."
Some are. But others are honestly upset and view Serin as an exemplar of the worst of the housing bubble. Speculators who lied on loans, critics say, raised the cost of housing for honest buyers who needed a place to live, and foreclosures tend to reduce property values of nearby homes.
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