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I had a chance to speak this morning with Kim Armas, a former office assistant and mail clerk for two homebuilders in the Inland Empire. She worked for them for about two-and-a-half years, she said, before being laid off in April. Armas is one of thousands who’ve lost their jobs in real estate related industries in Southern California as companies grapple with changing market conditions.

I asked Armas: What were the signs the company was in trouble?

“We were just watching people leave, honestly,” she said. “There were so many rounds of layoffs happening. And K. Hovnanian (another homebuilder) was downstairs from us. We were just watching people leave.”

Still, she said, it came as a surprise when officials from her company pulled her aside and said there was no need for her position anymore.

I asked her if they cited trouble in the market as a reason for her pink slip.

“I didn’t ask,” she said. “I just wanted to leave.”

Now, Armas is studying to become a nurse. When Armas and her husband got married, they sold the condo she’d owned and bought a manufactured home, for which they owe very little now, she said. And they can make it on her husband’s income while she goes to school.

But most of the other people who’ve lost their jobs aren’t in such manageable situations, Armas said.

“Unfortunately, a lot of the people that I know — of course, they went and they bought these new houses that were being built,” she said.

“I’m very tight with my money — $2-to-$3,000 on a mortgage, I thought that was ridiculous,” she said. “I didn’t understand how people were buying these new houses

and having all of these new cars in the driveway.”

Now, Armas said, she and her husband are watching prices fall on new inventory and resale inventory. Riverside and San Bernardino counties accounted for the No. 6 spot in foreclosures nationwide, according to RealtyTrac’s report yesterday — foreclosures and desperate sellers are bringing home prices down even more in Fontana, where Armas lives.

“Probably by 2009 I’m going to be able to buy the house that I really want, with the pool,” she said.

KELLY BENNETT

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