Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The smell of foreclosure

For several weeks my wife and I have been house-hunting escorted by an intrepid and knowledgeable agent. Our area of South Florida was one of the epicenters of the real estate crash and the aftershocks continue to be felt in every neighborhood. The properties we've looked at run the gamut from bank-owned to "normal sales" -- you know, the kind where an average homeowner (not an investor) is looking to sell his house for a fair price for one reason or another. Normal sales are the minority these days in this neck of the woods.

One thing I immediately noticed about our realtor was his habit of flinging open the front door, then waiting as if expecting someone to rush out. Also I noted his practice of leaving the door open behind us instead of shutting it as I would. Today he explained why. In the early days of the post-crash real estate market foreclosure companies would often cut the power to their distressed properties. He shared horror stories of going into these dwellings -- sometimes ten or more a day -- and the smells encountered. This bred in him a healthy caution about plunging into the unknown of an abandoned property. Many of these properties look appealing based on pictures and online descriptions. Then you open the front door. . .

Things have gotten a little better. Apparently banks are now required to keep the power on and maintain at least a minimal amount of air conditioning. Still, it dawned on me today as we looked at one such house that foreclosure has a smell. It's the smell of decay. And it's not pleasant. Once our search for new lodgings is at an end -- and frankly I have no idea what our "end" will look like -- I should write a memoir of my tour of the underbelly of the Palm Beach County housing market. I'm thinking of calling it "The Scent of Foreclosure".

Amid the sights and smells I wonder about the people that used to inhabit these once liveable spaces. It's like  being at the aftermath of a car accident, or crime scene, except the protagonists are long gone. What is the story behind this.

If only walls could talk.

Surely many houses shall be desolate, large and beautiful houses, without inhabitant.

Will these desolate houses each find their redeemer? I hope so.  

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