PERSON OF THE WEEK: Despite news reports that insist the economy is beginning to improve and the housing market is slowly stabilizing, there are still thousands of foreclosed properties that present significant challenges to mortgage bankers – not the least of which is the need to maintain and preserve the properties until new buyers can be secured. This week, MortgageOrb discusses these challenges with Suzanne Ball, president of America's InfoMart Inc., an Allen, Texas-based nationwide field services company that provides property preservation, inspections and real estate services to the U.S. mortgage industry.
Q: What are the most significant property maintenance and preservation challenges in today's market?
Ball: The most significant challenge would have to be working with code-enforcement officials and local municipalities to open channels of communication and stay informed on the ever-changing property preservation ordinances and requirements. This has certainly been the significant challenge for 2011, as cities and states have become much more aggressive and proactive in protecting neighborhoods and property values. As a result, more has to be done with properties, and having a strong relationship with these municipal officials is vital.
Q: Can a single derelict property have a serious impact on the property values of a neighborhood? And, if so, do you have examples of neighborhoods this happening?
Ball: Yes, it can. A single problem property can significantly impact property values, crime and neighborhood conditions. The key here is to maintain the property to the same level as the neighborhood.
Servicers understand that vacant and abandoned homes can quickly deteriorate if left without proper maintenance. Lawns must be mowed, snow removed, mold remediated, and the property secured. Continuous monitoring provides expeditious response times and less chance of code violations. In some neighborhoods, we'll do more frequent inspections.
Areas such as Chicago and Memphis are examples where high numbers of vacant, abandoned or foreclosed properties have motivated local officials to take corrective actions due to the impact on home values, neighborhood deterioration and health/safety concerns. Cities want servicers to maintain the value of vacant homes so as to maintain the value of the neighborhoods in which those homes are located
No one is interested in living near a poorly maintained property. We've witnessed a grassroots effort through property neighbors contacting servicers and field-service companies to identify everything from broken doors/windows to squatters and break-ins. We even visited neighbors to keep them informed and give them contact information.
Cooperative efforts between local code compliance, servicers and neighborhood groups are coming up with strategies to protect neighborhood values, reduce crime and maintain neighborhood integrity.
Q: Since the foreclosure crisis began, there have been news reports of properties being deliberately trashed by outgoing homeowners. Have you found this to be a continuing trend?
Ball: Foreclosures often can be a highly personal transition. No two homeowners are going to react in the same manner to the stress involved with the loss of a home. We have seen occasional instances of deliberate homeowner destruction. Fortunately for everyone, these are few and far between. In 2011, more homeowners have received help to save their homes from foreclosure.
Q: When the foreclosure crisis began, there were reports of people intentionally leaving behind their pets in the locked foreclosed homes. Is this still a problem? And can the departed homeowners be tracked down and arrested for animal cruelty?
Ball: We have found both live and dead household pets locked in homes or left in yards with no visible signs of recent care. Our response is to immediately notify local animal control and rely on their expertise to handle the situations.
Recently, we had a property that had three cats abandoned that starved to death. The sad reality is that when homeowners are in crisis, poor decisions are often made.