Drive through just about any neighborhood in America and you're likely to find empty houses. Shiny new homes that never found an owner are abandoned by bankrupt builders. Subdivisions left largely unfinished by cash-strapped developers. It seems to be especially unnerving to see the "SUPER-SIZED" or what has been coined the "McMansion" sitting empty. It is a glaring reminder that, in a bad economy, anyone can lose their home.
It's sad to watch a family have to pack and leave their dream home. They hang on and make their mortgage payments while trying to sell their home for months or even years. As they struggle to make the mortgage while suffering a job loss or pay cut, the value of their home continues to go down. Realizing they're fighting a losing battle, they finally give up and move out, opting to find a home to rent that they can afford, while continuing to try to find a buyer, hoping the bank will accept a short sale. Often the only option left is to just give up and let the bank foreclose. It has become epidemic across the nation.
When this happens, the negative affects spider out to the adjoining neighbors, and eventually, as the numbers of empty homes grow, entire communities and even the states suffer. An empty house is a target for vandalism. Weeds grow where there once were beautiful gardens, and the dandelions begin to take over the lawn that used to be lush and green. Swimming pools half-full with water invite mosquitos and safety issues.
What can you do to help protect your neighborhood from decreasing values and vandalism? Here are a few tips:
1. Ask your local police department to check on the empty home on a regular basis.
2. Alert the health department in your area if an empty home has a swimming pool that has become a mosquito haven.
3. If the home is listed, ask the listing agent to add timers to the lights so they come on at night. Keep curtains and blinds closed so that it is not readily apparent that the home is unoccupied. If the home doesn't already have a security system, ask the agent to add inexpensive door jamb alarms.
4. Ask the homeowner's association if there is money in the budget to help keep up the lawn maintenance.
5. Ask for volunteers in the neighborhood to take turns checking on the home to ensure all locks are secure and nothing has been vandalized.
Whether an empty home is a McMansion or a starter home, the negative repercussions affect all of us, and we need to do our part to help protect our property values. Of course even diligently caring for an empty home won't guarantee a buffer against value loss. The very fact that it has been sitting empty will bring out the bargain shoppers wanting to "steal" the home, which can have a very negative impact on your home's value. But at least you will keep the neighborhood looking nice and keep the home(s) from becoming an eyesore.