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Snakes, meth and trash oh my! Foreclosure buyers beware

I recently watched one of those shows on Animal Planet about horrible critter encounters and one of the stories was about a home infested with garter snakes. The buyers bought the home, moved their family in and at first started noticing a few snakes in the yard. In addition, the water was rancid and there were creepy sounds coming from the walls. As time went on, the snakes were so numerous the husband was killing 40 or more a day and that was just to clear a path to get his kids out to the car.  Finally, after a particularly bad night of creeping sounds coming from the walls, the husband gets frustrated and pulls some siding off the house and finds the walls are literally crawling with snakes.  

Figuring he was in over his head, he calls and exterminator who gets in what little crawl space is in there and discovers it’s a garter snake love shack (massive reproducing and hibernating den) and the only means of getting rid of them would be at least 20k in foundation work. With a new baby on the way, fears the water is contaminated plus the creepy factor, they decide to abandon the home and allow it to go in to foreclosure.

The Kicker

The house was bought as a foreclosure and the previous owners who had purchased it freshly remodeled in 2006, abandoned it for the exact same reason.   This is a video of what the first homeowners were experiencing and this is an article about the second family.  Now here is where it gets even more disturbing.  THE HOUSE IS ON THE MARKET! 

Now in all fairness the bank is disclosing the issue but as you can see in the article about the second family, the pictures of the house currently look pretty harmless and who knows how frank the bank is  being about the extent of the issue.

Meth Houses are also finding their way in to the foreclosure inventory

This article out of Colorado Springs is about a young couple who bought a home from an investor who had bought it, improved, and flipped the home. The wife who was newly pregnant began moving in furniture, changing light fixtures, hanging pictures and while she was down in the basement, found a couple of used needles in the window well.   She immediately left the home, the family had it tested for meth and even though it was not  a known “meth house” it was loaded with residue probably from heavy drug use.  They never moved in and shortly after (not sure if it’s related) she miscarried. They are carrying an $1100 note on a house they can’t live in, there is many thousands of dollars of mitigation work, and they are out thousands in furniture that either has to be destroyed or treated.  Mind you, they had it inspected and even radon tested.

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Another Kicker

Yes, you guessed it, the investor had purchased it as a foreclosure.  Apparently neighbors complained about what they believe was drug use or dealing from the home directly to presidents office of Wells Fargo, the mortgage holder, while the home was in foreclosure. Wells Fargo claims their reports only state complaints of the home being “unsecured.”  The bank didn’t investigate and wasn’t required to disclose to the investors who ultimately sold the home to this poor couple. Who is responsible?

The reality of these predicaments are playing themselves out all over the country in the form of drug homes, homes with trash buried in the yard, mold, etc… and in my opinion as long as there are so many homes on the market without owner/occupants at the time of sale, it’s going to play out for a while to come. What is so eye opening about both of these situations, and my personal experience with buying bank owned homes, is that the disclosures provided to the buyers are limited if even required in these transactions.  You also run in to this with homes that have been rented by the seller which in this era of homes taking longer to build equity, is increasingly common.  In our state, if a seller has not resided in a home for the last two years, they are not required to provide a property condition disclosure.

Considering foreclosures

I am not by any means suggesting that buyers shouldn’t consider homes in foreclosure or even that have had tenants.  What I am suggesting is that when a buyer is looking to purchase home where a property condition disclosure is not legally required by the seller, there is an additional layer of homework that needs to happen.  Frankly, this might be prudent for any home purchase.  

First of all, there is no snake registry for known critter dens but read the fine print and if there is there is any info about why the home is not occupied even if it sounds implausible(like harmless garter snakes) – google it.  In the case of the snake house, there were on line videos and news articles about the snakes before the second buyers ever bought the home.

With regards to toxins, you can check the US Dept of Justice Clandestine Lab Register to see if the home was a known meth lab.  However, that won’t be far enough.  I learned from these articles that even using and selling the stuff can contaminate a home and that info won’t be on the registry.  That would be something to find in police reports, possibly news archives,  or asking neighbors.  You may even want to spring the $200 to have a certified tester test the home.  Bottom line with  drug related contamination is there is not a standard for how police have to report it and not central database that tracks whether drugs have been used or sold in a home which means more due diligence on the buyers part.

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Buyer beware is a term that’s been in play for years but the one great thing about the internet is that it can be a fantastic and necessary tool to do additional research on a potential property beyond mechanical inspections.  While agents may not be in a position to do this due diligence (because of fair housing) for their buyers, at the very least, we should be a resource on what questions to ask and where to find the answers.

Written By

Anna Altic – Village Real Estate Services. I’ve called Nashville home for the last 15 years and have been practicing (practice being the key word here) real estate for just over 6 years. In the fall of 2007, I went to a local German Festival that had a home tour, including a LEED certified property, and I instantly became enamored with the idea of eco friendly living (ok, so I’d had a little beer and the dual flush toilet rocked my world). I have since devoted much of my time and energies in to studying and espousing the benefits of better building technology within our local residential market and my proudest accomplishment thus far has been successfully leading the initiative to get over 25 green features added to our MLS search fields.

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