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Taking the Foreclosure Bus Tour

Mhari Saito

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Sign of the foreclosure times
(Timothy A. Clary)
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The U.S. foreclosure crisis has made financial institutions into homeowners. Vacant, bank-owned homes can be a real worry for neighbors -- they can attract criminals and lower property values. Some realtors are trying new ways of finding new owners for these homes: They're organizing weekend bus tours to connect prospective buyers with foreclosed houses.

I caught one of these tours on a recent, gorgeous Saturday afternoon in northeast Ohio. There are nearly 30 passengers on the bus, including a couple of real estate agents, a home inspector and a mortgage broker.

After hearing about similar tours in other parts of the country, the staffers at RE/MAX Crossroads decided to try one here in Cleveland's western suburbs. They rented the bus, brought lunch and scheduled appointments to view houses in different states of foreclosure.

Over the bus loudspeaker, RE/MAX Crossroads mortgage broker Pat Furey welcomes riders on the "foreclosure bus."

"We're going to see properties today from $117,500 to $270,000," Furey says. "So that just makes us aware that foreclosure doesn't affect just one segment or another -- it's across the board."

Shopping for a foreclosed house is not for the faint of heart. One house stinks of mold and damp, and many of these prospective home buyers don't even enter. At another, we trudge through thick leaves that have yet to be raked off the driveway of a bank-owned ranch-style house.

Inside, wires hang from ceilings, the light fixtures long gone. Pink antifreeze fills the toilets to keep the pipes from freezing in Cleveland winters. The power is out so it's hard to see what's downstairs.

There's something weird about walking through houses the former owners have lost for financial reasons. But prospective buyer Mary Anne Mosack says what she likes is that the trip seems focused more on solving the problem.

"I think someone described this as 'the tour of tears,' which is a sad way to put it," Mosack says. "You don't want to capitalize or be predatory on someone else's loss. But at the same time, it's a property that's already been lost, and I'm sure the people in this neighborhood want someone who can keep the property up and make the payments."

Most people on the tour are looking for a home to live in, not to rent or flip. Back on the bus, I notice the man sitting next to me writing notes on his property information sheet.

"So I see you guys put a big 'X' on that one," I lean over and say.

"That means 'X marks the spot' -- they're coming back," says another passenger sitting nearby, to lots of laughter.

"No, it's not what we're looking for," the man says.

As the bus continues on through tree-lined streets, people working in their yards stop what they're doing and stare. This foreclosure tour, like others around the country, has gotten lots of press coverage and people recognize the bus. At one stop, resident Laura Ryder and a gaggle of kids wave to us and talk up their block.

"There's lots of friendly people on our street! We love our street, we love our neighborhood," Ryder says.

Ryder adds that the home next to hers has been vacant and on the market for months. Visits from possible buyers have been sporadic. The bus brought more people to see the house than it's seen for a while.

She recognized the bus from TV -- "As soon as you stopped, it hit me: I've heard of this, but I didn't realize this house was on that list," Ryder says. "I don't know, I'm looking at it as a hopeful sign that you're bringing a lot of people up here."

Some of the homes on the tour are beautiful, with views of ponds and three-car garages. As the bus tries to park in front of one house in North Royalton, we temporarily block a late-model Jaguar trying to pull out of a neighboring driveway. Others houses on the tour are just dated -- like one with a well-worn wall-to-wall neon aqua rug.

Realtors say there have been no purchases yet from the foreclosure tours, but they have had plenty calls of interest. Tickets for next Saturday's tour are already sold out.

Comments

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  • By Tony Brooks

    From Ann Arbor, MI, 04/28/2008

    Seeing so many Foreclosures is a sad thing and it is really turning into a mess. So, that's why I think that the Foreclosure Bus Tours may be the only way to start moving some of this inventory. Right now, I am sitting looking at it and the inventory keeps growing. Those guys from Michigan were really on to something when they started the Foreclosure Bus Tours sometime last spring. When I saw their road signs, I thought that they were nuts, now I see that everyone's doing it. Incredible. Overall, I think that its the way to go, especially for someone that's in the market that has never purchased a foreclosure. It's a little different than buying from the homeowner. Well...I think that I said enough. But for those doing the bus tours, keep up the good work. -Tony

    By Carol Crawford

    From Kent, WA, 04/26/2008

    My home of 20 years is now in Foreclosure. I have worked for The Boeing Co for 22 years but last Nov 2007 took a med leave. As of today still on this leave due to diagnosis of MS. I was not able to pay my mtg and all bills on 60% of pychk. All by myself. I am currently packing up 20 years of my life and crying continuosly. 3 grown daughters I raised by myself and my 14 yr old son has to live with one of them and go to a diff school far away. My heart is broken, my life as I have known it and given my whole life to my children is gone. Foreclosure. Such a horrible word to me. So is having MS, so is loosing my son and not see him go through high school and on. Will be starting long term disab in May and will get 50% of pychk. Just one lone person with this exp. NOTE that the email address is not available anymore.

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