Officials: eBay home sales making housing problems worse

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CLEVELAND (AP) - The growing trend of buying and selling foreclosed homes on eBay is making it difficult for local authorities to determine who owns homes in need of repair, several Cleveland-area officials said.

Cuyahoga County has been hit particularly hard by the nation's foreclosure crisis. In the past year, both local and outside entrepreneurs have been buying vacant houses from banks and government agencies and selling them on eBay, often to buyers who have never been to Cleveland.

Flipping homes is nothing new, but the eBay phenomenon has given the practice a new level of speed. Homes can be had for as little as a couple thousand dollars, and often come with boarded windows and stripped siding.

Cuyahoga County Treasurer Jim Rokakis sees no benefit to the lightning-quick eBay transactions, often made without the buyer ever laying eyes on the home.

"They're the next round of vultures," Rokakis said. "They have no interest in the neighborhood. They have no interest in revitalization. They have no interest in Cleveland."

A review of 100 eBay sales by The East Side Organizing Project since late June found that some sellers misrepresent the conditions of homes and omit information about tax liens and building condemnations.

"The layers on an issue like this are just continuously growing, posing severe problems for the vitality of neighborhoods," said Matt Laska, housing director for the Detroit-Shoreway Community Organization. "We're getting a continued cycle of blight and abandonment."

An eBay offer on a home on East 72nd Street in Cleveland reads, "NICE, CLEAN, Nicer!"

Its windows are boarded, the siding is stripped and the kitchen counters are missing. Half of the surrounding homes are boarded up and stripped.

The owner, Best Buy Properties of Chillicothe, has been selling foreclosed property on eBay for eight years. It has never seen the house, or repaired it.

A bidder won the house recently for $3,800.

In the ad, Best Buy Properties promises no liens and no violations on the home, which, according to the county auditor, it bought from Deutsche Bank for $2,375 on July 22. But city records show the house has two active violations from 2005, and a $257 city bill for cleaning up the lot.

A Best Buy Properties spokesman did not answer requests for comment.

The flipping of houses, such as the one on East 72nd Street, often happens so fast that officials at Cleveland's overburdened building and housing department have a hard time keeping up.

The home is in the name of Best Buy Properties. But often, houses on eBay are registered in the names of previous owners, such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

That makes it difficult for the local government to track down the true owner of the homes so they can issue new citations, and make sure that a house is kept up. Houses are sometimes flipped even before there is time for a title transfer.

"That's a huge challenge," said department Director Edward Rybka. "We spend a huge amount of time trying to find people."

And those who buy flipped properties are often surprised when they end up in Housing Court.

Owners can go to court for grass taller than 8 inches or for having overflowing garbage. Violations remain with houses when they are sold, and multiple owners can be held liable.

Daily fines can reach $1,000, and jail sentences can be 180 days, for the failure to fix a property.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. The information contained in the AP news report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press. Active hyperlinks have been inserted by AOL.





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