Getting empty homes sold.
May 16, 2013 7:54 PM   Subscribe

How can neighbors encourage the sale of unoccupied homes?

I live in a neighborhood in an inner-ring suburb of a major city on the Great Plains. Our 297 homes are all single-family, are mostly owner occupied, and are in very good condition. However, six or so have been empty for an extended period of time, like 5 or more years. Almost all of these empty properties are poorly maintained. It would be ideal for these to be sold. Any advice out there on how neighbors can help make that happen?

The most common situation for these homes is that a parent has died and left the house to their children, who sometimes live out of the area. Other scenarios are with the owner in an assisted living facility or for one house a bank owns it, but has not been willing to put it on the market.

Current efforts
The neighbors and I work with city codes to make sure the properties are kept up, at least minimally. Often we see some action like a lawn mowing after a call, but the big issue is the homes’ reoccurring problems.

This spring the real estate market in my neighborhood is going gangbusters, better than I’ve seen in years. I will try to aggregate some of the sales data and pass it on to these absentee owners.

Any other tactics you all can think of?
posted by eelgrassman to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
If the properties are poorly maintained, perhaps you could take care of some of the maintenance / upkeep yourself, so as to keep them in nicer-looking condition?
posted by Juffo-Wup at 7:57 PM on May 16, 2013

How are the surrounding occupied homes maintained also? If your whole neighborhood has curb appeal and a nice environment, that will entice people into the neighborhood - and not just the houses.

Try to get in touch with who the current owner is, and ask what permissions you have to help. They may even fund some small projects that they are unable to oversee, to make the house more sellable.

Last, talk to a real estate agent. They may have an idea of why they aren't selling, such as the price or the market in your neighborhood. You could ask the agent directly what you should do to get the houses sold if you were the owner, then see what parts of that advice you can do as neighbors.
posted by Crystalinne at 8:10 PM on May 16, 2013

1. Pick up the slack maintaining the exteriors.

2. Talk to the realtors and arrange a mass open house event. See what else they can think of.

3. Bring them up when people talk about looking to move etc.

4. Make a website for the street advertising the homes, post on Craigslist, etc.

5. Get the media involved and sell the story of what you/your street/your neighborhood are doing to take care of this.
posted by michaelh at 8:17 PM on May 16, 2013

I don't know how you can get a house sold when it belongs to someone else, like in the case of it being willed to people out of state? You can't get them sold until they're on the market, and in the examples you're giving the houses are empty but not for sale.
posted by spunweb at 8:21 PM on May 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

Is your goal to encourage the owners to sell instead of sitting on the property? If so, picking up the slack on maintenance isn't the way to go here. You're making it easier for them to keep the house.

At best, you can send the owners information on the current sales and refer them to a good Realtor.
posted by 26.2 at 8:22 PM on May 16, 2013

Agree with 26.2. The incentive to sell will be the realization that the real estate market is heating up in your neighborhood and this could lead to a liquidating event. Maybe have a RE agent send these folks a packet with statistics and sales, with what they offer, etc. Don't do any work for them. Then they have an incentive to sit on it until some other event happens.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:26 PM on May 16, 2013

Don't mow the lawn or clear their sidewalk. That will only remove any incentive to sell. Get familiar with your city's housing code and call the city for every violation: tall grass, paint, snow covered sidewalk, broken windows. Report the violation, call your city councilmember, write your councilmember. Make it so the city wants to get rid of the problem and force the home into housing court.

They can either make the owners pay so much in fines and legal fees that they want to sell or they can compel them to sell.
posted by munchingzombie at 8:30 PM on May 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the answers, everyone. Keep 'em coming.
posted by eelgrassman at 8:48 PM on May 16, 2013

The first path on the sale of these homes is making them available to be sold. You could get a group together to pool money and approach the current owner(s) about buying one of them.

The most common situation for these homes is that a parent has died and left the house to their children

... and a very common situation there is that the house is still hung up in probate, or the heirs don't agree on whether to sell it and what the price should be. If you don't care about having clear title you might be able to "buy" it for cash without any title insurance and rent out the house while years of legal battles play out, but that's going to be a very expensive way to not have vacant homes in your neighborhood.

Six out of 297 homes unoccupied is really a very low number, most areas have at least a few homes unoccupied at any one point in time.
posted by yohko at 8:53 PM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Send them the name of a property management company that will get the property rented out in exchange for a percentage of the rent?
posted by salvia at 10:51 PM on May 16, 2013

My city has used Community Development Block Grant monies from HUD under the Neighborhood Stabilization Program. There may be census tract income limitations, but essentially the city has bought up empty houses, demolished some that were beyond saving, fixed up a few others, and passed several on to a regional non-profit to rebuild as moderate-income housing. It's been pretty effective, although I've sorely missed a couple of the homes they've razed (we have a very historic neighborhood, but it's largely in shabby condition). But others have been much improved (although only to modest standards, not "historic showplace" standards), and the fund income has been plowed back into the program.
posted by dhartung at 1:09 AM on May 17, 2013

Encourage the owners to have realistic asking prices.

I was just looking up a house yesterday: it's been on the market since February 2012. Looking up the history, it's easy to see WHY it hasn't sold, even though it's well-maintained, attractive, in a nice neighborhood, and has newly-updated bathrooms and kitchen: the original asking price, as of Feb. 2012, was well over TWICE the selling price of nearby homes; after sitting unsold for over a year, the asking price has gradually dropped to a "mere" 175% of other houses. The seller is on at least their third real estate agent; when I called the current agent to make an offer --- one based on actual local selling prices --- the agent sighed, told me they'd pass along the offer, but told me it's extremely unlikely the seller would consider it.

Everyone thinks they're going to make a killing selling their house; it's just not true.
posted by easily confused at 2:41 AM on May 17, 2013

Talk to people who are out with a realtor looking at the homes. I used to have a "nuisance property" one house away from me and it was the fact I startled the realtor by loudly bellowing "What are you doing over there?" when he was, in fact, simply waiting for his clients to show up. Those clients were so impressed by me and other neighbors taking an active interest in the fate of their neighborhood that they bought the house, turned it around, and now are part of a better, stronger neighborhood.
posted by kuppajava at 6:58 AM on May 17, 2013

Our 297 homes are all single-family, are mostly owner occupied, and are in very good condition. However, six or so have been empty for an extended period of time, like 5 or more years.

Contact the owners to see if they are willing and able to sell them. If they are, form a corporation of local homeowners to buy those empty homes, clean them up, and sell them (or rent them if that's possible and no one is buying them). With a lot of local investors, you have some considerable savings available and you all have incentive to make it work.

Also form a sort of welcoming committee that would promise (and deliver) great neighbors to anyone thinking of buying. You have 300 households with lots of adults with various skill sets, plus a bunch of kids to be friends for their kids. Not a creepy neighborhood watch thing or intrusive HOA, but a less formal neighborhood group that has regular meetings/parties and helps people pool resources. Ask potential buyers to drop by your parties to meet the potential neighbors and talk about the neighborhood.
posted by pracowity at 7:25 AM on May 17, 2013

If any of those properties are bank-owned, it's possible that the bank has not gotten around to dealing with them yet because they have several hundred properties just like them. Banks are terrible at owning real estate. There's a huge 2-story in my parents neighborhood that has been vacant for years, and every year it deteriorates further and the value declines even more. It makes no sense, but the bank just hasn't gotten around to dealing with it yet.

You can look up the owners on the tax records. You could always send them a letter at the address where they actually live and offer to buy the house, or network with real estate investors that may be interested in it and give them a heads up on the property. For this to work, the owner has to be willing to sell the property as a reasonable price. That is not always the case. Does your city have a real estate investment club? If so, it might be good to go to a couple of meetings.

At any rate, it doesn't hurt to contract the owners. Maybe research some property management info that you could forward to them -- maybe they don't realize that they could rent the property and not have to deal with the headaches of doing so themselves.
posted by Ostara at 9:25 AM on May 17, 2013

Keep in mind that, if the properties now belong to the children of parents who died and left the property to the children, hassling code authorities to make sure the properties are maintained by issuing warnings and fines to the owners might be backfiring on you.

A little story: One of my friends got a call that his estranged mother had had a stroke while driving and driven into a tree. She was estranged because she'd kicked him out the door at 18 with no home, no money, and no sympathy. He joined the Navy to have somewhere to sleep and feed him. Even though he didn't want to, because he's a good guy, he flew up there and visited her in the hospital, got the keys from her, and went to his childhood home to sleep ... only to find ... DUNH DUNH DUNH ... she'd become a hoarder. He couldn't even open the doors of the house. The house is full of antiquities and valuable heirlooms, but it is literally packed to the rafters with garbage. A volunteer group went up and spent a week doing basic maintenance and helping them clean some of it out ... we/they got through the first floor of a three story + basement house, and filled 8x 40 cubic yard dumpsters in the process.

To make a long story short and pertinent, my friend and his wife are self-employed and of modest means. They pay the insurance and property taxes on the house. Every year, they save up a couple thousand dollars that they hope they can use to travel up there and sort through more of the crap. And every year like clockwork, the city that the house is in fines them for a variety of little things that they've been called on... and we're talking thousands of dollars of fines. There's zero sympathy for the concept of "If you'd stop fining us, we could come up with enough money to actually sell the house."

I would suggest, if possible, establishing a neighborhood organization that is dedicated to helping people sell the houses, instead of getting people to sell the houses. Find them, listen to their stories, and offer to help them reach a mutually beneficial arrangement instead of trying to undermine them into doing what you want.
posted by SpecialK at 9:27 AM on May 17, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks again for all the answers everyone. I have a few more approaches to explore now.

As for calling codes/getting the city involved, it's honestly because of health and safety issues, not for the purpose of irritating the owner. If the vegetation gets out of control, it provides habitat for undesirable critters, and can also give refuge to intruders.
posted by eelgrassman at 10:35 PM on May 17, 2013

Health and safety issues are the very reason your city has a building code. Calling them and asking them to enforce the code will annoy your absentee neighbors probably. But it is a step towards them not being horrendous ass holes. Seriously. Abandoned homes are great places for animals to live. For children to get hurt in. For house fires. Not to mention it hurts everyone's property value. If there are some circumstances preventing the owner from maintaining the property you will hear about it from the housing inspector.

I used to work for a municipal government in a city that has the third highest vacancy rate in the country. We want to hear from residents because we are not omniscient. And that doesn't always mean slapping the owner with fines or court. Some of the housing court judges and home inspectors I have known have tremendous compassion and will work very hard with the owner to turn them into a better neighbor. So please call, write and email your city to begin that process.
posted by munchingzombie at 8:45 AM on May 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

If the vegetation gets out of control, it provides habitat for undesirable critters, and can also give refuge to intruders.

If neighbors are concerned about this, have everyone take turns doing a quick mow when they do their own lawn, instead of waiting until it gets so bad to be a city issue.
posted by yohko at 11:49 AM on May 23, 2013

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