Unfinished, abandoned houses at basement prices

abandoned home constructionThese aren't foreclosures or short sales. That's so 2008 and 2009. These are half-built houses that could be yours on the cheap if you have the finishing touch.

The housing bust has spawned another bargain-habitat hunt: people trolling for homes under construction that were abandoned by the contractor or buyer, according to an article in the Orlando Sentinel. Sometimes the blueprints are left on the table. There are probably lots of hard feelings left, too, from owner insolvency and/or builder neglect.

Still interested? Here's the catch: You'll have to find your own contractor to finish the job(s). You'll probably have to pay any property liens, and you might have to deal with structural problems left behind such as heating and cooling, carpeting, potential mold, or wood rot. Get an expert to help you assess what your incomplete but never-lived-in fixer-upper requires, Jim Lewis, president of Charles Wayne Consulting in Maitland, Fla., said in the story.

The savings are hard to quantify for many reasons, but the Sentinel piece does its best. Winter Park, Fla., realtor Kelly Price had one distressed and unfinished Tuscan villa-style home in a gated community listed at $1.3 million. That's about $118 a square foot, compared to between $311 to $758 a square foot sales for five other comparable homes in the Lake Nona Country Club complex. The bank that owns the Tuscan property has rejected all offers, so far, Price told the paper.

The Lake Nona manse illustrates how one's grand intentions in good times can suddenly morph into an orphaned work in progress. With custom-built cabinets and other niceties gathering dust in a storage facility, a drafting table sits in a barren master suite. The pool and jacuzzi are just concrete holes. Piles of roof tiles stand next to the guest house.

Custom-builders large and small have left patches of half-built homes across Central Florida, the article said. It seems the national landscape is experiencing the same phenomenon. Incomplete houses comprised 43 percent of homes up for sale in October 2008, the Sentinel said, up from 39 percent in January 2009. Just remember that the statistics include homes with uninterrupted construction and healthy financing. Still, the dwellings left by builders and being sold by banks are boosting those numbers, according to the article.

The anecdotal evidence signals that the "shell" home bargains are out there. Price, a distressed-property expert, has three.

"If I had known three years ago that my business would be based on selling short sales, foreclosures and half-built houses, I would have told you you were smoking crack," Price told the Sentinel.
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