Foreclosure may seem like someone else's problem, but when it happens in your neighborhood, it's going to cost you money, too.
Each foreclosure within 660 feet (1/8th mile) of your house can drop your home's value by a factor of almost 0.75%, according to the Center for Responsible Lending, a consumer watchdog group.
The closer a foreclosure is to your house, the bigger the impact. A university of Connecticut study suggests one foreclosure within 300 feet of your home will lower your property value by 1%.
If you live in a neighborhood with few vacant homes and a foreclosure occurs within 250 feet, a University of California, Berkeley study suggests you could lose 2.2% of your home value.
Do troubled owners deserve help?
Some people think the homeowners facing foreclosure got themselves into trouble because they bought more house than they could afford with toxic mortgages for which they never should have been approved. At least one study of the 2007 and 2008 foreclosure crisis suggests that was indeed the case.
Foreclosures become comparable sales
Even if you don't feel compassion for those facing foreclosure, you might feel sorry for yourself. Homebuyers and mortgage lenders use foreclosures as comparable properties to value your home when you sell or refinance. And the discount at which foreclosures sell is a hefty 27% on average.
Although most appraisers adjust the value of your home upward compared with a foreclosure, a homebuyer may consider the foreclosure equally valuable to your home and base his offer on that instead of your property's real worth. If that happens, your real estate agent can argue that non-distress sale comparables and better condition make your property worth more.
Foreclosures lower tax revenues
Drops in property values brought on by foreclosures don't just hurt your property value; they also cut away at the whole property tax base, the source of revenue for local government. Elected officials then have to either charge you higher taxes or cut services to make up for the shortfall.
What you can do about foreclosures
To limit foreclosure damage in your community, ask local officials to pass laws forcing lenders to maintain the properties they now own and to pay the taxes and homeowners association dues on them.
If the town isn't forcing lenders to maintain a foreclosure in your neighborhood, organize a volunteer effort to cut and trim the shrubs at vacant houses on a round-robin basis, and report vandals or squatters to the police. A well-kept foreclosed home will attract more buyers than one with a weed-filled yard. Take trespassing laws into account as you organize your effort.
If you're selling or refinancing and the appraiser uses foreclosures as comparable sales to determine the value of your property, ask your real estate agent to make sure the appraiser accounts for the distressed nature of those sales and the condition of the properties as they compare to yours. Ask your agent to seek out other comparable sales the appraiser might have missed, which show your home in a much better light.
By: Lew Sichelman
Syndicated housing columnist Lew Sichelman lives in a ranch house on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay and has been writing about housing for more than 40 years.