November 17, 2012

Home sweet housing stock turns sour

Post-Great Recession, communities have been blighted by both empty houses and homes whose owners can't maintain them.

By Tom Bell
Staff Writer

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Earl Jamieson, 74, stands in front of a dilapidated house, which he says is bringing down neighborhood property values, on Mary Avenue in Saco. He is trying to sell his own property next door.

Photos by Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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Realtor Marty Macisso, right, chats with owner Jeff Quirk, who is fixing up a house that he bought in Scarborough after it was repossessed by a bank in a default. Quirk is buying such properties at auction, fixing them up and reselling them.

Gordon Chibroski

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When people owe more money to the bank than their house is worth, their behavior changes, he said. They no longer act like owners because they no longer view their property as an investment.

"They have no money or savings," he said. "They live in the house until the house falls apart or they go bankrupt."

Over time, whole neighborhoods can become blighted, he said.

Carl Chretien, owner of Chretien Construction in Saco, which does remodeling work, said people aren't keeping up their houses the way they used to. When he drives around town these days, he sees a lot of houses that need painting, and people now wait until their roof is leaking before they replace it.

"The roofs are starting to look pretty shabby and worn," he said.

Chretien is now working in Saco on a roof covered with asphalt shingles that are so old he can see the plywood underneath.

Statistics kept by the Maine Department of Labor tell the same story. The number of residential painters employed by contractors fell from 739 in 2007 to 549 in 2011, a decline of 26 percent. The number of electricians, finish carpenters, plumbers, roofers and tile contractors similarly declined.

Still, some people see opportunity in this market. Jeff Quirk of Scarborough is buying foreclosed homes at auction, repairing them himself and reselling, or "flipping," them. He is now finishing work on a house in Scarborough that he bought after it had been vacant. He recoated all the walls, put down a new kitchen floor and installed a new hot-water furnace to replace the one that was damaged while the house sat empty.

When families experience a financial crisis, houses can fall into disrepair quickly, he said.

"When people are upside down on their mortgage, that's not the only part of their life that is upside down."

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:


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