I never want to laugh or make fun of disaste. It is just not in my nature.The Florida market continues to get pounded and it just keeps getting uglier and uglier...Take a look at this NY Times article published this week and be thankful for what you have...
By DAN BARRY
Published: September 21, 2008
FORT MYERS, Fla.
Mr. Becher working at a foreclosed property on Coconut Drive.
The lawn mower’s whine disrupts the morning peace of Coconut Drive like an alarm clock no one remembers setting. It rises and falls and rises again, as the angry machine cuts across the front-lawn jungle of an attractive house with great location and move-in potential.
Abandoned, in other words. Three years ago, sold for $660,000; today, a ghostly parcel of failure.
The lawn mower returns the grass to short uniformity, then growls toward the back yard, passing a two-car garage housing forsaken gardening tools, a basketball hoop no longer conjuring jump-shot dreams and a door leading to a kitchen with a granite-counter island. Now it begins to clear around an in-ground pool brimming with viscous water the color of cash.
The man operating the mower is not a landscaper making his weekly visit, but a city employee trying to stem the blight caused by a boom in property foreclosures. His name is Shayne Becher, and just two hours into his shift the 90-degree mugginess has saturated his city-issue cotton shirt. But that’s how it is here in Fort Myers, in this season of rain and recession.
Mr. Becher works for the code enforcement division’s rapid response team, which tries to keep up with an ever-growing list of abandoned properties needing to be mowed and boarded up. He is the team’s foreman and its only member; his partner recently accepted the buyout the city was offering to reduce its budget.
So Mr. Becher mows and hammers and sweats from 7 in the morning until 3:30 in the afternoon, five days a week, sometimes with help, sometimes not. He may be unable to reverse the plummeting national economy, but at least when he’s done, these deserted houses have a curbside appeal that neither offends neighbors nor attracts criminals.
With perspiration beading at the tip of his nose, Mr. Becher uses a blower to clean the sidewalk and driveway, then piles fallen coconuts and other debris at the curb for public works to collect. Before climbing into his truck, he pauses to assess his handiwork at what was once someone’s dream house.
“Beautiful,” he says. Then he drives a few blocks to another site of abandonment, on Sunset Place.
Come to Fort Myers, population 60,000, the seat of Lee County. Walk the Gulf Coast beaches. Cruise the Caloosahatchee River. Witness what happens when banks dole out easy mortgages and homeowners forget that the money isn’t free. Drive down McGregor Boulevard, or Cleveland Avenue, turn left or turn right, and see the empty houses, the overgrown lots, the signs saying AUCTION and FREE RENT.
Celebrate the fact that, according to RealtyTrac, a listing company, the Fort Myers-Cape Coral area no longer leads the country in foreclosure rates; that is so — July. In August the area ranked sixth, with one in every 66 housing units receiving notice of an auction, repossession or loan default.
One of the fallouts is wholesale abandonment. Michael Titmuss, a former Fort Myers police officer who became the city’s manager of code enforcement seven years ago, is seeing new and disturbing trends in the city he loves. Failing condominium associations. Criminals renting deserted buildings they do not own to unsuspecting tenants. More and more no-shows at code enforcement hearings.
“They’re desperate,” Mr. Titmuss said. “They feel hopeless and they don’t know where to turn. They’re good people in a bad position. They perceive themselves as unable to comply, as being surrounded by a pack of wolves.”
He didn’t finish the thought because these days some things are understood: The homeowners walk away, leaving their properties to banks as unwanted parting gifts for having provided risky loans in the first place.
Here in Fort Myers, the code requires that grass be no higher than 12 inches. Otherwise, neighbors complain about property values, rats and snakes receive sanctuary and lurking criminals find easy cover.
If a lawn isn’t mowed, a process kicks in. The city mails a courtesy postcard, saying: Time to mow your lawn, neighbor. After that it sends the rapid-response team — that is, Mr. Becher — to mow. Then it bills the homeowner for the service, though these bills often become liens on property that no one wants and banks are not eager to recl