A Home After Foreclosure

There’s been a lot of news about homes going into foreclosure, but less news about the after effect this has on the actual homes. Behold, the mold haven.

There’s a fungus among us

Our company gets contracted by companies like Fannie Mae sometimes to go into foreclosed homes and clean it up.  We change the locks, clean out the house, pump water out of basements, and try to get the house fixed so they can sell it.

The “cleaning up” part of the job usually involves cleaning out the junk people leave behind.  In the eviction homes I’ve done, we have to put people’s stuff on the front lawn. Usually it’s just trash, but it legally has to be on the front lawn to allow them to come and get it before we can throw it away. This house I worked on early this week was the first I’d done where it looked like they left in a hurry. Whatever happened, happened fast.

Looks so innocent from the outside…

Everything I put out on the front lawn was moldy, but there were two leather sofas, a microwave, good dishes, and a baby’s crib (that one made me sad). Usually in evictions if the police come and someone’s still in the house (they usually have already left), they’re cool and tell people to take their time. But this didn’t look like people left taking their time.  They even left about $800 in electric motors in the garage, a lawn mower, golf clubs, tire rims, a snow blower… it didn’t look like a good situation when they left (I guess an eviction is never good though).

After all this stuff gets hauled to the front lawn, we get to work on the actual home.  Changing the locks was pretty quick to do; the bigger problem in this home, and in lots of foreclosed homes, was the 2 feet of standing water in the basement. Here’s why this happens…

90% of homes have sump pumps.  And I actually have 2 sump pumps (one is a backup because I know how bad it is when a sump pump breaks). To put a sump pump in, you find the lowest part of a basement, and dig a 4 foot deep hole that’s about feet wide and you drop the pump in there. There’s a float in there as well.  Bear with me here.  Homes have drain tile around them. When it rains, the drain tile water from around your home drains into the sump pump.  The floater moves in the basin where the sump pump is and so the pump kicks on and pumps the water into the backyard far enough away that the water won’t come back.

The living room of moldy doom

But in a foreclosed home the power gets turned off.  And if the power is turned off, then the water that is funneled to the sump pump just builds and builds because the pump can’t work without power.  And pretty soon you’ve got flooding in your basement.  2 feet of flooding in the case of this home (and now you can see why the home was so moldy all over, there was 2 feet of standing water in the basement!).

To get the sump pump back on, the power in the house must be turned back on. Before turning it back on though, I needed to wade to where the sump pump was  and plug it in (they homeowners unplugged it in vendetta against their lender, I think) and then get the power on. When I walked down the stairs, before touching the water, I dipped my electrical tester into the water to make sure that the water wasn’t energized. Even though the power was out, you never really know.  There are exposed outlets and circuit breakers that are under water in a situation like this so you’ve got to be careful (bluecollarworkman tip #1: If you have water built up in your basement or crawl space, do NOT go in unless the power is off!).

After I got near the sump pump, plugged it in, made sure it looked okay, and walked away, I called the electric company and got them to put the power on in the house.  They were waiting for my call and so with the power on, the sump pump started working and that basement eventually got cleared of all that standing water.

Mold, it’s not just for breakfast anymore

As for all the mold everywhere, we would’ve had to scrub it if it was just on one wall, but the entire house was nasty, all moldy, so there was no saving the drywall or anything at all. The house needed a complete gut. The company I work for bid on that job, but the lender who owns the house is looking around for the lowest estimate right now.  I’m actually glad that we haven’t gotten the bid yet because all the mold in that house made me sick that first night.  I was nauseous and felt like garbage because of all of that mold!

Note: In case you were wondering how I got to talk to the electric company so fast without sitting on the phone waiting for 4 hours (and how I got the service I needed immediately), it’s because they have commercial and residential lines.  When a company, like us, calls the commercial line, it goes right through. When a person, like you (or me when I’m off the job), calls the residential line, we have to wait hours to talk to anyone.  And get bad service. It’s ridiculous.

Mold in the bedroom, too

Be sure to check out the Christian Personal Finance blog for information on avoiding home foreclosure, buying foreclosed properties, and fighting foreclosure.

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A Home After Foreclosure — 27 Comments

  1. Wow, I never really thought about what happens to a home after it’s foreclosed on.

    I never thought something like this could happen, but it does make sense! I wonder how often basements get flooded like that…it has to only be after a bunch of rain, right?

    We have a slab house (no basement) so we don’t have a sump pump – at least I don’t think we do. lol.

    • Well yeah, a lot of rain will fill up your basement fast but it can happen sometimes when it’s not raining too… just depends on how the land and water run around your house. I’ve helped out a lot of friends with flooded basements because their sump pumps stopped working or their foundation cracked… but yeah, usually happens mostly when it rains big time.

  2. Geez that sounds and looks like a real mess. I guess the company who foreclosed the house should’ve addressed this all sooner to avoid these problems. Also, I didn’t realize that it was the law that possessions have to be left on the front lawn. I just assumed the home owner wanted to give anyone a chance at free stuff before throwing it all out.

    • Clever guy. You hit right on the problem when homes get foreclosed. They get left for a long time by the lending companies who have taken ownership and so the houses value declines ever further. I heard that with all the foreclosures in the past couple years, the lenders can’t keep up maintaining them all and so … you get ridiculously huge mold problems and unmowed lawns, etc.

  3. Ish, that’s not a pretty sight.
    I’ve had the power go out and spent time bailing water out of the basket trying to keep it from filling up and flooding the basement but that water comes in pretty fast. We now have a battery back-up.

    • It does fill up fast! I can’t agree enough about your decision to have a battery back-up, it’s the best decision you can make for your home if you have a basement.

    • The alarm hooked up with the cell phones is a perfect idea — I don’t know how much that costs, but it has to be less money than fixing a flooded basement!

  4. One thing about it I doubt you ever have a boring day on the job! So when you put the stuff out in the yard do folks ever come by and pick through it? I hope your boss provides you with masks or something like that for when you have to deal with houses in this condition.
    Zack Jones recently posted..One Down One To Go!My Profile

    • When we’re at the house doing work, people usually don’t come by and grab stuff from the yard. But in houses where we have to come back the next day, there’s usually a lot less stuff on the lawn! Heck, I’d take stuff myself except that I’d get fired since it’s technically illegal!

    • That’s a really neat idea for a website actually (do you have the link?) — but it is really sad seeing that this happens to families. Especially when the stuff I have to remove from houses includes cribs and toys.

  5. Being in the real estate business for a few years, I’ve heard these type of stories a lot. I’ve never been in foreclosed homes, but have been in homes that were left abandoned by the homeowners after a pre-foreclosure.

    You have to be very careful working in homes with a lot of mold. It’s very dangerous, and can make you really sick. I can’t even imagine how unpleasant it must be to have to drain and clean out a flooded basement. You’ve get a really hard job.
    Anthony Thompson recently posted..Self Management – Classic Self-Management Books You Should Start Reading TodayMy Profile

    • The mold was bad enough that I really did feel sick that night, but otherwise, once the sump pump got going I spent a lot of that day just sitting and waiting for it to finish pumping out the water. My job is really hard sometimes and somewhat easy sometimes!

    • This one was pretty bad, but most houses have some mold and aren’t in great shape. Without continual maintenance houses can get bad fast…and in the case of foreclosures the people are so mad that they sometimes sabotage parts of the house, making it all worse!

  6. In college, I worked for a company that did cleanouts of rental properties. The stuff that people would just leave behind was unbelievable. Many times we were allowed to haul it away, and cherry-pick the best things. Like going to a yard sale, except that it’s free.
    None of the places I was in though were as nasty as the pictures above.
    Andrew @ 101 Centavos recently posted..Gold As An InvestmentMy Profile

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