The economic downturn in the United States is taking its toll on the wealthy. U.S. repossession companies are being called-in to seize an increasing number of luxury items such as yachts and private jets from people who have defaulted on their loans.
Repossession specialist Randy Craft is skilled at picking the ignition on a boat.
It takes patience to get the outboard motors started, but he's had a lot of practice. In the last week alone, Craft has carried out repossessions in six U.S. states. "When I go after a boat," he says, "I typically wait until there is nobody around and then I jump on it. Nine times out of ten, we'll pick the ignitions and get it out, and that way nobody knows what is going on until after the fact."
Craft works for International Recovery Group, or IRG, one of America's largest luxury repossession agencies. They take possession of assets when people are unable to pay back their loans.
Carrying out "repos" can be dangerous. Craft says he has been threatened with a snow-shovel, run over by a car and chased down a river by a furious boat owner.
"The economy has gone bad. It's on a down-slope right now, and because of that, people are angry. They're looking for a way to retaliate," Craft stated.
Boat sales rose steadily from the mid-1990s until 2006, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association. But now, many owners are facing tough economic times.
IRG is currently holding nearly two-dozen boats it seized from owners who defaulted on loans.
The company's owner Ken Cage reports a large rise in repossession orders, coming mostly from banks and other lending institutions. "This time last year we were up at least 200 percent over the year before. This year, we are probably up 300 to 400 percent over last year."
Cage says the recession is to blame. "It's hitting folks that three or four years ago were very successful," he said.
Not only boat repossessions are up.
Cage's company seized these 30 private planes now languishing at a Florida airport.
"Not only are the cases up quite a bit, the value of the cases is up dramatically," he said.
Cage used to repossess mostly small airplanes and boats. Now he seizes much larger items, including six multi-million dollar jets and yachts within the last three months. He also repossesses helicopters, race-horses and exotic cars.
Cage estimates about 70 percent of his orders are related to the beleaguered U.S. real-estate industry. And he expects the number of repossessions to remain high until the U.S. economy picks up.