Record numbers of foreclosed homes, often empty and abandoned for months before they are resold, have become spawning grounds for violent crime-including assault, rape and even murder.
One of the most recent victims of foreclosure-related crime was Ricardo Contreras, a Realtor in Westchester, California. Contreras was found stabbed to death last July in a vacant, foreclosed home by another real estate agent who was showing the property to a client. He left behind a wife and five children.
Elsewhere in California, foreclosures are threatening community safety in other ways, including arson. A foreclosed home in San Bernardino mysteriously burned, just weeks after the homeowners were evicted. The possible arson is not the only incidence of a recently foreclosed home catching on fire in the area.
Other foreclosed homes in California have been set up as drug houses to grow and sell pot. In many cases, the growers vanish only to find another empty house in the area, In Santa Clara County police report that officers are seeing more break-ins in vacant homes – especially staged homes, where thieves take furniture and appliances. They are also targeting open houses, he said. In May, there were four reported incidents of purses stolen at open houses.
In Queens, New York, high-foreclosure neighborhoods in Queens had an average 424 more incidents than low-foreclosure areas in 2008?an increase of nearly 150 percent since 2006.
“It is common sense that foreclosure and crime go together,” said New York State ACORN President Pat Boone. “Thousands of families across New York have lost their homes to foreclosure. In turn, their communities have lost neighbors who care for their homes and help keep an eye on everyone’s safety.”
The relationship between foreclosures and crime has become well established. A 2005 study by the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Woodstock Institute found that, holding other factors constant, each foreclosure in a 100-house neighborhood corresponded to a 2.4 percent jump in violent crime.
As foreclosures proliferate, so do the violent crimes associated with them. With more than 1.8 million foreclosure filings so far this year, foreclosures have set new records each of the last three months and will easily set at annual record. Though four states—California, Florida, Arizona and Nevada-dominate the foreclosure picture, vacant homes can be found in more than 2200 counties.
Real estate-related crime, including violent crime generated by foreclosures, has grown so serious that working in the real estate industry has become increasingly dangerous. Most incidents involve “open houses,” or showings of vacant property. They range from assault, robbery, sexual harassment, and threats posed by squatters, vandals, rapists and violent criminals.
Several years ago the National Association of Realtors, as well as state and local Realtor associations to raise awareness about the potential threats Realtors may encounter on the job. The NAR and its subsidiaries are gearing up for the upcoming Realtor Safety Week, September 13-19, 2009.
‘As a Realtor, we put ourselves in harm’s way every time we show a house. Many a time the hairs on the back of my neck have gone up when I arrived at a vacant house, in a less than desirable part of town, and two men who are strangers to me, are waiting. As much as I try to keep myself between them and the door, that is not a fail safe plan,” said Ohio Realtor and licensed pistol instructor Linda Walker in a recent blog post titled “And They Ask Me Why I Carry?”
In dozens of communities like Manatee, Fla., Anderson Township, Ohio, Greater Vancouver, Wash., and Jefferson County, Colo., real estate agents and local law enforcement officers are taking a different approach. In Jefferson County, they joined forces to create Realtor Watch, a program designed to teach real estate agents how to recognize and report suspicious activity, how to identify evidence of illegal drugs and meth labs, and how to avoid dangerous situations. Once trained, agents report suspicious activity.