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Let No House Be Left Behind

Until a year or so ago, I never gave much thought to zombies. Because of late night television, I’ll know what it is when I see one. They used to be human. When the human is gone they get deformed and ugly and they are called “zombies”.

Houses in foreclosure are zombie real estate. The owner expects to lose title to the house, and there is not one reason, once that is inevitable, to make another payment. In addition, there’s no reason to put a new roof on, change the landscaping, or do anything else to maintain the house. Before long that house will “zombie up” the neighborhood. Like the “real” zombies, I know what it is when I see one.

When we were young adults we bought houses. We put money in our house and we improved it because we expected it to gain in value at the same time we paid down the mortgage. We also qualified for a tax exemption for accepting the invitation to own our home. Most people could live the good life by owning his home.

We even thought long term. We expected to sell our houses after the mortgages were paid and use the money to retire to the mountains, or buy a condominium, or simply give it to sometimes ungrateful kids.

But there is one other kind of zombie real estate that lurks unseen, just behind those properties in foreclosure.

Today the value of roughly half the houses in Florida is either underwater, or the amount owed on the mortgage is within 80% of the value of the house. Most are not in foreclosure. Instead, they are occupied by the very people who, 10 years ago, could have sold them and moved to the mountains. Many of these houses can’t be sold without paying cash to close. Often these houses can’t even be mortgaged to remodel or put on a new roof. One day, these owners who worked through and moved on from horrible mortgages will be the new American heroes.

My message is that the market is inching its way back. I don’t know about moving to the mountains – yet. But soon over-mortgaged property will not be, and those properties can be sold.

No one else is likely to say “thank you” to those who worked through bad mortgages, kept up their yards and houses, and waited for a better day. But the judges, Realtors, and lawyers who are working through the mess understand the value of your belief in America. We also know that because of your loyalty to your neighbor, whole communities did not become graveyards for zombie real estate.

Thank you for your discipline. We understand more than anyone your value to America.

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