Thursday, November 19, 2009

Repos & Rebirth

Stained carpets, missing light fixtures, trashed rooms and the telltale signs of broken families. That’s what you see when you spend your days showing bank repos to potential buyers.

As you enter the front walk, sometimes neighbors wander over to tell you the sad story they witnessed from their kitchen window or over the back fence. “She left him after he lost his job,” or a recent standout, “He left her and she was here in the house for a few months with the kids and then they all just disappeared.

That Noblesville home was pretty on the outside and looked like a steal. But on the inside it felt like a crime scene. The neighbor went on, ” . . . then the husband came back to try to clean up the house and saw what happened while he was gone. A huge freshwater tank full of fish left to die and rot in the summer heat, kids drew all over the walls with Crayons, dog crapped all over the rug, yard unmowed for weeks. You name it, it’s broken.”

When people are about to lose their house they get mad at their circumstances and mad at the world. They often take it out on the house.

With Indiana at or near the top in foreclosures nationally for the better part of a decade, our foreclosure scene is nothing new.

Noblesville’s Deer Path neighborhood is a good case study. It had 46 foreclosures in its first 4 years of existence, a record accumulated 2 years before the economy collapsed last year.

But no need to beat up on new construction, there’s plenty of misery across the repo landscape. Last week on a picturesque street in Old Town I showed a house that made my skin crawl. Carpets were packed with filth (was that oil or mud?), an old mahogany buffet, clawed by some long-gone dog sat askew in a rank kitchen, and animal feces scattered a back room. Standing in the moldering cellar, scanning the crawl space with a flashlight, the beam found a gaping hole in the foundation and a house cat that stared back impassively.

And you only have to look at a few repos before you realize there must be a secondary market for a home’s mechanical systems.

Two years ago I showed a rural Westfield repo to a young Noblesville couple. It was clean and well scrubbed but missing its furnace, central air unit, toilets, sinks, ceiling fans, kitchen appliances and cabinets.

Like a car on blocks in a bad neighborhood, the house had been stripped. But one person’s misfortune becomes an opportunity for someone else. My buyers took the house and put it back together, making a nice first home for themselves.

And if you’re tempted to believe that bologna about the market collapse being caused by the government forcing lenders to loan money to poor people, you haven’t seen the high-end of the foreclosure crisis. In reality, just 1 in 5 of the bad loans going into foreclosure were made to low-income buyers.

Earlier this month in Carmel, I showed several foreclosures & pre-foreclosures priced over half a million dollars.

And last week I showed a home priced over $1.7 million. It’s in the midst of a now famous mortgage fraud case. There were $9 million worth of loans taken out on the house: a case study in a decade of weak regulation of lenders and AWOL government oversight.

The pool is filled with algae, outdoor hand railings are rotted, vandals have smashed hand-cut stonework, and an outdoor cooking area has been trashed. Inside, every refrigerator, wine cooler, dishwasher, oven, cook-top and a fireplace mantel were gone. In one of the two garages, old signage from The Levee restaurant is scattered about. In the basement theater room, wires hang uselessly from wall ports where the speakers and components were ripped from the walls.

Like much of the rest of the country, foreclosures have raced across our county like a wildfire. But wildfires have a way of setting the stage for rebirth

The homes that have been a drag on my Old Town neighborhood for years have fallen into foreclosure and been bought for a song by investors and young folks with a dream. Drive up and down the streets and alleys now and you’ll see scaffolding, ladders, dumpsters and stacks of lumber and siding – signs of rebirth amid the debris.

It keeps reminding me of those documentaries about Yellowstone a few years after the big fire where you see these strong, young shoots of growth springing out of the ash.

Another Noblesville Blogger You Must Read:
There’s a Noblesville writer whose blog is getting noticed on a nationally well-known web site called Timothy McSweeney. The writer is Charlie Hopper and he lives in a picturesque Colonial Revival home on Maple Avenue with his wife and 3 kids.

Charlie is one the brightest and funniest people I know. He won a competition for a regular blog spot on the McSweeney site by writing about his true-life attempts to write and sell a hit country song in Nashville. His “beleaguered, but hopeful” journey will put a smile on your faced.

Anyone who has ever chased a long-shot dream while trying to hold down the fort and walk the straight and narrow will connect with Charlie’s stories.

Give him a read at:

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