Neighbors keep up vacant and foreclosed properties

Foreclosures leave empty houses that need attention

The lights aren’t on and no one is home.

That’s because the house on Crest Drive is no one’s home.

It is one of the thousands of homes where people no longer live. Vacant properties are cropping up in every neighborhood nowadays, with the number of foreclosures on the rise.

According to the online real estate market RealtyTrac, foreclosures are projected to rise 25 percent this year to 1 million homes. Last year, lenders took back 804,000 homes.

In February, Georgia ranked fourth in the nation with 12,356 filings, a rate of one for every 331 households. South Carolina is eighth with a rate of one for every 489 households, with 4,373 filings last month.

Many of those homes will sit empty for months waiting for new buyers. Meanwhile, the grass will keep growing, the hedges will need trimming and things could start falling apart.

That’s where people like Sammie Sias come in. As the president of the Sandridge Community Association, Sias keeps an eye on vacant, bank-owned and otherwise empty properties in his neighborhood. When he or one of his neighbors gets wind of a foreclosure, they step in to make sure things don’t go to pot.

“The first thing we do is move the trash cans off the street to the back and clean up old newspapers and stuff,” said Sias. “Then we’ll go ahead and cut the grass.”

The idea is to keep up appearances for everyone’s benefit, said Sias. Run-down houses and overgrown yards bring down property values and invite crime. If they notice an empty house is becoming a hangout for wayward teens – which happens occasionally – he and others will board up the house to keep out intruders.

It doesn’t matter if they don’t own the property. Someone has to take responsibility if you can’t find the owner, he said. Sometimes a mortgage gets bought and sold so many times there’s no easy way to determine who owns it, he said.

“To contact the bank is impossible,” Sias said. “Once a real estate company puts out a shingle, then we know who to contact.”

Not all bank-owned properties are left unattended, but it depends on the bank and how many foreclosures it has on its books, said Dan Blanton, the chief executive officer of Georgia Bank & Trust.

Blanton said his bank has very few residential properties in foreclosure. Part of that is because Georgia Bank & Trust tends to sell most of its residential mortgages to larger banks.

“We might have one here or there, but if we do have a house, we keep it up,” Blanton said. “We don’t want our name on a house with four-foot tall grass.”

Blanton said the problem with some bank-owned properties is that the mortgage holder may be in another state and may have hundreds of properties to handle.

If a bank doesn’t have a connection to the community, it has less reason to be a good community member, he said.

That’s why some houses will be abandoned to the elements until someone steps in, said Lori Davis, the president of the Harrisburg-West End Neighborhood Association.

“It’s a big problem because there are so many foreclosures now,” Davis said. “Sometimes you have to step in and do what you can.”

Davis said she has seen a number of vacant and foreclosed properties in her neighborhood, some taken care of, some not.

She has one next door that she keeps an eye on, hoping a good neighbor will buy and move in. Until then, she said, the grass will stay trimmed. Heck, she even trims the grass for her other neighbor every now and then.

“It’s in my best interest when I cut my grass to go ahead and hit the ones on either side,” she said.

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