NY Times “Vacant, With Much to Maintain”
A recent article in the New York Times talks about maintaining vacant properties in Long Island.
Vacant, With Much to Maintain
By MARCELLE S. FISCHLER
PAUL CARLOZZI, a quality control inspector for Safeguard Properties, a national property preservation company, walked the perimeter of a one-story brick and frame house, valued at $300,000 but now in default and vacant.
Mr. Carlozzi noted that a contractor had been hired to clear 48 cubic yards of debris from the yard and mow the three-foot-high grass. He said the door locks had already been changed.
But then he noticed that two windows were open. That was “not a good sign.”
“Contractor!” he yelled, opening the front door with a master key, warning any trespassers of his presence. “Anybody in here?”
The house had no running water or electricity, and it reeked of mildew. But that hadn’t deterred a “squatter” from using “a makeshift bed set up in one of the rooms,” said Mr. Carlozzi, a 30-year-old former marine.
Vandals had already taken copper piping and the furnace, “so there is minimal left to steal,” he added.
But he was having another contractor dispatched anyway, to “secure the property” by boarding up windows and installing security doors.
Hired by banks and other lending institutions on the Island, home preservation companies are racing to keep increasing numbers of foreclosed properties from sharing the fate of the Bay Shore house.
Robert Klein, chief executive of Safeguard, said that in September his 25 local inspectors and contractors did 8,500 default inspections in Nassau and Suffolk Counties and filled 330 maintenance orders for cutting grass and making repairs. The numbers represent a sliver of the company’s nationwide business during that time: 250,000 maintenance orders and 750,000 inspections to verify occupancy.
“We are seeing an increase in damages to properties,” Mr. Klein said. “We try to do everything we can to lessen the impact” to the neighborhood.
According to the research firm PropertyShark.com, foreclosures on the Island reached a two-year high in the third quarter of this year. There were 716 new auctions scheduled – 37 percent more than the number recorded over the same period last year.
One in every 1,398 homes in Long Island is scheduled for auction. Nassau County has one in every 932 homes, while in Suffolk the number is 2,422. The glut is most visible in the boarded-up homes in areas like Brookhaven, which has had 113 foreclosures, and in Hempstead village, where there have been 60.
During a recent week Mr. Carlozzi, who is based in Cleveland, inspected 52 area homes in various stages of the foreclosure process.
Such inspections include everything from driving past dwellings whose owners are 45 days late on payments to verify occupancy, to winterizing pipes and making monthly stops at homes that are vacant but haven’t yet gone reached the stage of a foreclosure auction.
Mr. Carlozzi says he also meets with contractors to repair homes repossessed by banks, so they can be put back on the market.
Mr. Carlozzi said that some distressed homeowners “sweep the floors” when they leave, while others harbor resentment at the downturn in their lives and “may take out their aggression on the property.” Thus cabinetry, appliances and plumbing may have been ripped out before he arrives, he said – though it is sometimes hard to determine whether the damage was done by homeowners or vandals.
Sometimes, the abandoned homes are used for parties or prostitution, he added.
Just down the block from the house with the squatter, Mr. Carlozzi inspected a boarded-up new home with nearly 4,000 square feet of space and balconies on three levels. An outside spigot had been ripped out and baseboard heaters were missing.
Mark Palladini, an associate broker who specializes in foreclosed properties with Re/Max Best in West Babylon, is trying to sell that bank-owned property for $475,000. Its builder, caught between the crumbling real estate market and the mortgage crisis, lost the house and a similar one next door to the bank, he said.
According to Mr. Palladini, “Copper around here is the new gold.” Vandals chopping out copper pipes and wiring “leave $75,000 worth of damage at times.”
Once eager for a bargain, speculators have been reluctant to buy foreclosed houses at auction, said Bill Staniford, chief executive of PropertyShark. Nearly 90 percent of the 336 foreclosed Nassau County properties that went to auction went back to the bank that made the original loan, leaving a growing pool of vacant and unsold properties that the banks must try to resell and, in the meantime, pay preservation companies to maintain.
Safeguard contractors fix broken stairs and leaky roofs, replace stolen fixtures and do “maid service,” dusting out cobwebs, scrubbing toilets and countertops to get the homes “into marketable condition.” They also remove belongings that occupants have left behind.
“We want to put families back in these properties,” Mr. Carlozzi said. “We aren’t looking for investors; we want homeowners.”
Todd Yovino, the owner-broker of Island Advantage, takes care of hundreds of foreclosed properties that his Huntington-based realty company handles in the metropolitan area. His firm does weekly status reports on delinquencies and helps evicted occupants with relocation.
“We are picking up the Pennysavers” off the driveway, “so the neighbor next door who is paying his mortgage and has a vested interest doesn’t need to look at an eyesore,” he said.
Boarded-up homes are a “calling card for the vandals,” Mr. Yovino said, adding that instead, he tries to keep lawns neat, put blinds in the windows and leave lights on timers.
“As soon as you board them,” he said, “you are taking off 10 to 15 percent of the value.”
Mr. Carlozzi likened his job to that of “a mortician, waiting on the tragedy of another to make a living.”
At an abandoned high ranch in Bay Shore, a pool table had been left in the living room, a pile of clothes in the laundry room, a box of crayons and a computer on a desk. There were glasses on the kitchen counter and rolls of Christmas wrapping paper in the closet.
It seemed as if “it’s all been left in a hurry,” Mr. Carlozzi said.