These two stories really sum it all up. Rampant mortgage fraud, cash-back-at-close scams, realtors, mortgage brokers and appraisers on the take, and now cities (and homedebtors) are paying the price.
Prepare to cringe. Post-housing-crash America ain't gonna be too pretty.
Empty Houses Home to Crime As Loans Fail - Neighborhoods Suffer As Crime Follows Foreclosures Into Vacant Houses
Eighty-five bungalows dot the cul-de-sac that joins West Ontario Avenue and East Ontario Avenue in Atlanta. Twenty-two are vacant, victims of mortgage fraud and foreclosure. Now house fires, prostitution, vandals and burglaries terrorize the residents left in this historic neighborhood called Westview Village.
"It's created a safety hazard. And if we have to sell our house tomorrow, we're out of luck," said resident Scott Smith. "Real estate agents say to me 'We're not redlining you, but I tell my clients to think twice about buying here.'"
"They've seen a lot of prostitution in the area, vagrants wandering in and out of the empty houses and drug activity," said Officer Dakarta Richardson of the Atlanta Police Department. "Some people that I talked to are afraid to walk out of their homes at night."
During the boom, the suburb just south of Sacramento sprouted 10,000 homes in four years, attracting investors from the San Francisco area. Now many houses stand empty, weeds overtaking lawns, signs lining the street: "Bank Repo," "For Rent," "No trespassing -- bank owned property." A typical home's value has dropped from about $570,000 to the low $400,000s.
Miami condo at ground zero in mortgage fraud
At first glance, the 43-story building in Miami's international banking district seems little different from other high-rise condominiums overlooking the turquoise waters of Biscayne Bay.
But the 643-unit condo known as the Club at Brickell is a leader in mortgage foreclosures and it appears also to stand at ground zero in a blizzard of fraud that may lie behind many of the failed loans threatening to bury the U.S. property market.
Mortgage scams involve a cartel of inside players -- colluding property appraisers, real-estate brokers and accountants willing to draw up fake income statements and tax returns -- who recruit people with good credit histories to serve as a decoy or "straw buyer" in a real-estate deal.
The conspirators inflate the price of the property, to get the biggest loan possible, pay the sellers the original price and then pocket the excess loan money as "cash back" at the closing of the deal.
Doug Dewitt, a real estate broker contracted to work with several lenders on the valuation and disposal of foreclosed properties, said nearly 70 percent of the sales or closings at the Club over the last 18 months were questionable.
That works out to more than 200 possibly shady deals in a single building, he said.
The dubious transactions all fit a pattern that Theobald said should trigger "bells and whistles" for law enforcement anywhere -- time and time again properties that failed to sell for months when listed at around $450,000 were pulled from the market and then suddenly sold for more than $800,000.