Foreclosure Vandalism on the Rise

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This is a house that has not been loved. In fact, she has been downright abused. From the front, she appears to be a nice, whitewashed North Dallas ranch in a neighborhood about three miles north of Preston Hollow, where former President and Mrs. Bush now live in a gated cul de sac. Whoever abused this poor home took their anger out on her because they were forced out by foreclosure.

Such home bashing is not uncommon. While no statistical information is kept on the amount of damage homeowners inflict on a property once it has gone into foreclosure --- not at the Urban Land Institute, not even at Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies -- the anecdotal stories abound.
"I've never seen national data on a dollar cost figure or relative degree of damage, " says Rick Sharga, senior vice president of California-based RealtyTrac, "but we know it's done."

Holes in the walls, fixtures ripped out or destroyed, rotting garbage left behind or worse -- booby traps: these are just some of the ways displaced homeowners take out their anger on the property. The worst: the homeowner who poured quick-drying cement down the toilet.

"There's no end to the creativity," says Sharga.

George Roddy of Addison, Texas-based Foreclosure Listing Service has even seen air conditioning condenser units hauled off. He's seen holes from fists or feet, faucet fixtures ripped out, missing copper, light fixtures and ceiling fans removed. Some sorry homeowners even rip out appliances and cabinets, which under Texas law is considered chattel and a part of the home. In another state, one investor bought a foreclosure where wires had been cut in the attic and sparking.

Then there are the homeowners who leave in such a hurry, and perhaps such a sad state, they actually leave behind valuable furniture, appliances and personal items. Even so, the worst damage now inflicted on foreclosed homes comes from vandals who, even if the homeowners left everything intact, often rip out wiring, appliances, anything they can take and sell. Rising numbers of empty, lender-owned properties is one trend Sharga doesn't see ending anytime soon.

"We'll see a numeric peak in the number of households receiving foreclosure notices next year," he says. "It will be at least two to three years before we can see our way out of this foreclosure mess."
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