Why we should streamline foreclosures and get a move on

Several readers have informed me that the owner of 23 West End Avenue and that crazy Victorian on S. Park Avenue, both in Old Greenwich, is stripping them of everything he can before title passes irrevocably to his lender. Stealing appliances from a spec house in foreclosure is a time-honored tradition in the building trade, although usually it’s the unpaid sub-contractors who do the stripping in an attempt to recover something for their labor. But this builder has announced that he intends to take toilets, sinks, baths, window treatments (good riddance to those) and whatever else he thinks may have value. I suppose he’ll get away with this, things being what they are and banks so busy with thousands of other foreclosures but it seems like theft to me: he gave title to the house to the bank when he obtained a mortgage and it’s the bank, not he, who owns those things.

But more germane to the subject: getting inventory off the market, this kind of behavior just mucks up the work. I was going to show that house on Park Avenue, odd design notwithstanding, because at its new price of $1.495, there might be some value there. Now I won’t. I don’t want to get even peripherally involved with some nut case who thinks that the value of a used toilet is worth risking arrest and, even if we were to strike a deal, who knows what would be left in the house at closing? I’ll wait for him to be removed, thank you, and see what happens at the auction, if that ever happens and my client’s still interested.

I also find it telling that the listing broker can’t provide assurance that a bid of the full asking price would be acceptable to whoever holds the loan because, apparently, no one from whatever institution that is will communicate with her. So you’ve got a whack job in possession of the house, threatening to strip it (having already demonstrated a willingness and ability to do just that at 23 West End Avenue), a lender who’s pulling a Garbo, and an uncertain real estate market. Repeat this strange scenario several hundred thousand times across the country and you’ll have some idea of why our current housing market’s in the mess it is. Those areas that were hit hardest earliest – California and Florida, for instance – seem to have streamlined the process of foreclosure and sales in those states are recovering. We need more of that and not a new federal taxpayer-paid program to keep defaulting borrowers in homes they can’t afford. Tomorrow’s TARP announcement, with its promise to spend billions of our money on people like the builder described here, won’t help.

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