The world's most hated blogger on real estate, gold, and the pains of being pure at heart
Two years ago, it's fair to say, Casey Serin hit bottom. A bottom lower than most of us could go -- a bottom that would make most of us nauseous and curl into fetal position, whimpering.
A young Uzbekistan expat who grew up in Sacramento eyeing the American dream, Serin observed as a mighty wave of real-estate speculation swept over the state and the country. But when he tried to hang 10, he wiped out. Big time.
Earlier in the decade, at 23, things looked brighter. After flipping his apartment effortlessly, Serin attended a real-estate seminar that reinforced what the experience told him: that making money in real estate was a snap. He began buying single-family homes across the West, some sight unseen, and some with mortgages far in excess of 100%.
Serin was trying to play the speculation market, but he was in far over his head. Soon he had eight houses, and most went quickly into foreclosure. When the carnage was over, he was millions of dollars in debt. Through it all, Serin wroteiamfacingforeclosure.com, his notorious blog documenting his own candid, unflinching diary of unceasing failure -- a reliable lightning rod for supporters and "haterz." CNet soon dubbed Serin "the world's most hated blogger," and media like USA Today, NPR, Suze Orman, and ABC Australia took notice. It all sounded so outlandish that the investment site the Motley Fool wondered if Casey Serin wasn't a hoax.
By July 2007, he was coming undone. His marriage was unraveling. The FBI wanted a word with him. The book he'd hoped to publish about the experience was getting bogged down in bad contracts. (In one typical post on iamfacingforeclosure, from January 2007, Serin wrote about how he inadvertently signed away the rights to his story: "I impulsively chose to trust these two ladies again and figured they are looking out for my best interest and would not screw me on this deal, even though I didn't fully understand the implications" he wrote of the contract.)
For his amused, appalled audience, Serin's car-wreck of a life -- impulsive trips to Australia, awful business deals, an increasingly frustrated young wife -- made him the poster child of the subprime real-estate disaster. These days, of course, he's got plenty of company, and condemning his actions isn't so simple anymore.
In an exclusive interview with WalletPop last week over lunch at a Sacramento eatery, Serin spoke extensively for the first time since the end of iamfacingforeclosure about the rocky paths he's chosen. He still seems fully under the sway of the pop-motivational texts that helped encourage him in the first place, saying he strives to live by the living-large rules of bestselling gurus like Robert Kurosaki (Rich Dad, Poor Dad) and Tim Ferriss (The 4-Hour Workweek).
But Serin's next plan is a jaw-dropper. He aims to go off the grid and head to the foothills of Northern California, where he will -- literally, symbolically, unbelievably -- prospect for gold.
And, he'll be fulfilling a dream of living in a van.
Serin, now 27, looks angelic, rosy-cheeked and guileless: not the kind of person who would attract such vitriol from his many critics. "I started reaching out to some of these people, and they started warming up to me," says Serin, who still has traces of his Uzbek accent. "I met some of my critics in person, and we're friends now."
Letting everyone openly hate you could be a business model, he now realizes. "Everybody's got a story. The more open you are, the more vulnerable you make yourself -- people start testing your boundaries." He smiles affectionately, then laughs to himself, comparing his "haterz" to elementary-school bullies.
Serin sold the iamfacingforeclosure domain name in 2007 and used the money to pay off his wife's debt. He's measured his past two years online in three blogs, all now defunct: one advised short-selling real estate, another was a personal diary called truecasey.com. He also invested in penny stocks, specifically GoldSpring (GSPG), and wrote about it in his short-lived blog, millionairebyChristmas.com. he also stayed active in a local real-estate investment club.
Serin's notoriety cost him one prospective job, he says -- he's a Web designer by trade -- and led a tax accountant to reject him as a client. He and his wife, Galina, divorced in March 2008, and he clearly misses her. (His situation, though extreme, is hardly the only marriage that's been tested by foreclosure.)
Today, Serin says he's overcoming depression through divorce counseling at a church and living with his parents. He's turned away from blogging and instead is immersing himself in meditation, yoga, and Eastern philosophy -- all components of his recovery. "I'm trying not to look at labels -- the primary importance is two human beings connecting," he says. "Most of the world is fear-based: a bunch of egos talking back and forth."
And he's not beating himself up over his mistakes. "I don't see myself as a failure internally, not necessarily a screw-up," he says. "It's an experience." All he ever wanted to do in the five years since graduating from high school in 2000, he says, was to create passive income and be free to live anywhere he wanted. He wasn't earning enough as a Web designer, he says, so he turned to real estate. His timing was spectacularly wrong, of course -- he got in at the peak and badly blew the game -- but even now, he says, that's all real estate ever was to him: a game.
Casey's next wild ride is partnering with an investor who owns a gold mine. He has invested in equipment that can extract fine gold and has put a claim on 60 acres of government land nearby to search for more. His more basic aim is to live off the land. Citing Thoreau's Walden and Sean Penn's film version of Into the Wild as inspiration, Casey is well-versed in the time-honored dream of living off the grid.
Serin is old enough to remember watching life in Uzbekistan fall apart after the Soviet Union crumbled, all the empty stores and poverty. So he says he wants to be prepared when the same thing happens in the U.S. in the coming Depression 2.0. Though he has grandiose plans of trying to learn how to grow his own food, he's mostly going to use this time to recoup and study for his real-estate license.
Yes, Serin hopes to get back into the game, still wants to score the inevitable book deal for his past misadventures.
"They know I'm not going to get a job, a standard job," he says of his critics. "I'm an entrepreneur."