Foreclosures may slow, but neighborhoods are still under threat

I knew something was amiss -- all of the signs were there:

  • * About 6 months ago my next door neighbor abruptly took off with a U-Haul full of personal belongings;
  • * I haven't seen any foot traffic in or out of the house since then;
  • * Newspapers began piling up at the foot of his driveway;
  • * And then -- I'll admit I might have been being a little nosey - I discovered a foreclosure filing on his front door Feb. 12.

After several months of mystery, I found myself turning into a real estate sleuth. I called my home owner's association to see what they knew about the home, which turned out to be absolutely nothing -- zilch. Then, I chatted with the neighbor on the opposite side of the house in question, who was also clueless.

But it's all clear now. The foreclosure filing confirms what I had already suspected -- and adds to the millions of other foreclosure filings that have circulated since the start of the current financial crisis.

For some, it might be easy to look the other way after a foreclosure hits the neighborhood, but after the confirmation, I made an agreement with my neighbor two doors down that we were not going to let this property become an eyesore. I had already moved the pile of rain-soaked newspapers in the driveway to the front porch months ago -- getting them out of plain view. They've since stopped being delivered. Now that the foreclosure proceedings are official, our pact to maintain the exterior of the property as much as we can -- cutting the grass, trimming hedges, etc., until a new occupant moves in -- will likely play out under similar circumstances across the U.S.

Foreclosures continue to spread at an alarming rate, but is there a light at the end of the tunnel? On Friday, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase both announced that they were temporarily halting some foreclosures. This, of course, comes as the Obama administration is considering how it can help keep struggling mortgage holders save their homes. It's definitely about time that Main Street gets some sort of real assistance after the billions that have been doled out to the big financial institutions that helped create this mess.

Granted, there are some consumers who were definitely living beyond their means but big banks also need to shoulder some of the blame for pushing these mortgage products that they knew some applicants could just not afford. Hopefully a government intervention that might use taxpayer funds to help homeowners is near so we can begin to repair the wreck that has been created by the mortgage mess. Until then, it's up to the homeowners left standing to maintain the integrity of their neighborhoods.

Why should you care? For most people, a home is the biggest investment they will make in their lifetime. I was certainly bummed out last week when I received a flyer on my car window for an open house in my neighborhood that was listed for $50,000 below what I paid for a similar one just a little over two years ago. Your home's value could remain even more at risk near or next to an unkempt home. And with prices already plunging nationwide, why risk your home's value from sinking even more? Save your neighborhood!

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