If you want to get a good sense of how bad the foreclosure crisis has become, take a drive down South 11th Street in Newark, N.J. That's where we caught up with Scott Pyper and his crew.
Pyper is co-owner of Empty Building Security. His business shutters foreclosed homes with 14-gauge steel barriers. He may have the only growth industry in housing these days.
"In the last year and a half that we've been in business we've been very busy," Pyper said.
The shutters are necessary because looters are breaking into foreclosed homes and ripping out copper pipes, kitchen cabinets, electrical wiring, insulation, wall studs - almost everything. The places are completely wrecked.
Pyper says he's seen entire bathroom tile walls ripped open by bandits who want nothing more than a $50 brass shower valve. The $200-a-month rental for the shutters protects the bank-owned properties from tens of thousands of dollars in damage.
"If they break into the house like this they can do anywhere from 40 to 50 thousand dollars in damage," he said.
What's so striking about South 11th Street is the number of boarded-up homes. Many of the homes that are not closed up have for sale signs on their small urban lawns. The sub-prime collapse is truly evident in this working class neighborhood. Sky-rocketing property values encouraged developers to build new homes. Easy lending practices allowed first-time home buyers to purchase those homes. But when the credit spigot was turned off and interest rates reset, everything collapsed.
"People fall behind in their mortgages," Pyper said. "A year later they are foreclosed on."
Builders have abandoned their half completed projects. Homeowners defaulted on loans forcing property values across the neighborhood down. Even homeowners who were current on their payments and had lived on the block for years soon found themselves owing more on their mortgage than the market value of their home.
"The longer a house sits empty – unoccupied - the more it decreases in value and the more of a problem it is for the neighborhood," he said.
Pyper takes no pleasure in the fact that his business is doing well while so many people are suffering.
"Unfortunately people fell into tough times and this is the result of it," he said.
And from what he sees, there's no sign that his business will slow anytime soon.
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