Larry Pittman is one reality star you love to watch on TV, but would never want to meet in person. If he's ringing your doorbell, it's not to bring you good news. More likely it's to repossess your car, boat or jet ski. Although people run the other way when they see the star of 'Repossessed!' coming, Pittman says his business is addicting. "It's not just a job, it's a lifestyle," he confesses.
-- See the average salary of a repossession agent.
"We all complain about it, we scream and holler, but every time we walk away, we come right back to it," says the owner of JAM Recovery, whose exploits air Wednesdays at 10PM ET on the National Geographic Channel.
Which begs the question, "Why?" after all, as Pittman so succinctly puts it: "We make a living off of other people's misery." He says he goes through bouts of depression, sparked by arriving at someone's house to repossess their car, and finding an eviction notice on their door. Those types of scenarios never have a happy ending. "But at the end of the week, I gotta eat too," he says.
There are even some places Pittman just refuses to go. "No matter how desperate I am for a paycheck, I'm not going to repossess a big screen TV on a Saturday morning when the kids are sitting in front of it eating cereal and watching cartoons," he says. But just knowing that those types of situations exist and that someone is going to do it can really bring you down, according to Pittman.
Not only does he deal with tragic situations on a daily -- sometimes hourly -- basis, but those hours are extremely erratic. Often Pittman has to go out in the middle of the night to find the property he needs to repossess at the corresponding address. "We live this thing 24/7," he says. "We sleep sporadically. Sometimes I'm up for two or three days at a clip." Those types of hours can't help but take their tolls on relationships. Pittman says his business is partially responsible for his split with his wife.
In essence, it's "the thrill of the hunt" that seems to possess Pittman and his colleagues. "I know guys who got into it to pay their way through school, got advanced degrees and those degrees are sitting in a drawer -- they came right back to it," he says. "I know a woman who gets her hair styled and her nails done every week, and you'd never know she's a repo, but she really knows how to move a man, and she can drive a tow truck."
Pittman also loves the diversity. He's repossessed everything from a hot dog cart to a hearse (twice), and he revels in setting up a sting. A particularly clever one came in repossessing an airplane. "You can't just hook it up to a truck and drive it down the street," he said. That one involved renting a hanger at the airport and hiding the plane.
You'd think that during a recession, Pittman's business would be booming, but he says it's a constant struggle. Sure, there are plenty of items to repossess, but "you can't repossess what you can't find" -- and when times get tough, people get more resourceful and hide things better.
The internet, however, has revolutionized the repossession industry, Pittman claims. "You can find anything on the internet." He says that when he started out in the business, he would go through people's trash to find clues, such as addresses or letters, leading to where the item might be hidden. Now that public records and all sorts of databases are online, most of the necessary information is right at your fingertips.
In addition, Pittman's son, Mackie, who recently joined his father in the family business, has introduced his dad to all sorts of helpful new high-tech gadgets, which are featured in a number of episodes this season. A motion-activated infrared camera snaps photos and sends them to Pittman's Blackberry, securing the evidence necessary to confront the owner of a Lincoln, which eliminates the need for a time-consuming stakeout. And a tracking device enables the team to nab a high-end boat before it is hidden away in storage for the winter.
Pittman has repossessed everything from a Viper to a business phone system. Some days he'll confiscate eight or nine items, others none. That uncertainty and diversity are among the things that make him cling to his profession. "It's not for everyone," he admits. "But the right kind of person gets possessed by it."