Styled, Staged & Sold

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Abandoned, Deteriorating Homes ... Just Let Them Burn?

By Melissa Dittmann Tracey, REALTOR® Magazine

Foreclosures left abandoned for weeks, months, or years at a time can take a big toll on nearby home values. In the end, everyone in a neighborhood can feel the fallout.

Can some of these foreclosures be saved? Investors in recent weeks are certainly snapping up foreclosures in bulk and turning them into profitable rentals. But what about some of the foreclosures left lingering ... the ones that no one seems to want?

A Morgan Stanley’s analyst recently estimated that nearly 95 percent of distressed homes are in such bad shape and not even suitable for renting.

In Detroit, which has been plagued by foreclosed homes the last few years, firefighters there are proposing a controversial new plan: Let the homes burn.

If the vacant building is more than 50 percent on fire and does not pose a risk to nearby structures, they propose to let it burn, and in the meantime, help save the city money ... and maybe save nearby property values too?

The proposal comes at a time when Detroit is experiencing a series of suspicious arson fires, which has led to dozens of vacant buildings and homes blazing.

“We are in no way looking to 'let the city' burn, this is about saving lives and money,” Donald Austin, Detroit’s executive fire commissioner, told WDIV-NBC in Detroit. “My department is strapped, the budget is strapped, and it’s time to look at a new way of doing things.”

The proposal still has to win approval from city officials. Some argue that the buildings are uninhabitable and will eventually be torn down so firefighters might as well let them burn instead of wasting more money trying to salvage the unsalvageable. But others argue the vacant homes should not be able to burn unless they are on a predetermined demolition list.

Detroit has an estimated 80,000 vacant homes and buildings, according to a new documentary, “Burn,” about Detroit firefighters. The fire department estimates that 40 to 60 percent of the city’s fires are in vacant structures too. Some of these fires are being caused from scrapping, in which thieves remove metal piping or other building materials from a home leaving it vulnerable to catching fire.

Several cities across the country aren’t leaving their eyesores to flames but instead a bulldozer to chip away at its deteriorating foreclosures. For example, this past summer, Bank of America announced it would donate some of its foreclosed home inventory--homes that were deemed uninhabitable--to local agencies for demolition in Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, and other cities. Other banks announced similar steps. The land in many places will then be used for new development or open space.

“There is way too much supply,” Gus Frangos, president of the Cleveland-based Cuyahoga County Land Reutilization Corp., told Bloomberg News back in July. “The best thing we can do to stabilize the market is to get the garbage off.”

What do you think? Can a deteriorating home still be saved, or are they better left to demolition or ash?

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