Less than zero: Lots of Detroit properties worth even less than $1 asking price

You might blame the fact that houses in Detroit's drug war-torn neighborhoods are going for $1 (plus closing costs and thousands in back taxes) on the foreclosure crisis, but the reality is grimmer and probably more permanent.

Although the Detroit News featured the $1 sales on its front page, these kinds of giveaways have been common in East Coast cities for the last 30 or 40 years as a way to unload property with no market value in their current condition.

I took one of them 30 years ago from the city of Wilmington, Del., in return for agreeing to fix it up and live in it for three years. My oldest son's first word was "Ralph," the name of the plumbing and heating contractor who spent more time than his father at our perpetually under-construction home.

But at the end of those three years worth of dust and sweat, we sold the place and cleared $25,000.

I doubt that a property giveaway in Detroit would have such a happy ending these days.