Contemplatingthe Wreck of the Titanic across the street, I decided to see if there are any broadly accepted ways to protect your own property value and preserve something like peace of mind in the face of a nearby foreclosure. Here are a few strategies you can use to cope with a disastrous property devaluation that will degrade your investment in your home.
- Remember that you haven’t lost money yet. Loss of value in real estate is not realized until a property is sold.
- Stay informed by estimating the value of your home. You can find a valuation calculator at the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, along with some other interesting information. Zillow will give you a rough estimate of your home’s worth, if you have an idea of which properties in your neighborhood are comparable to yours in size and quality. OFHEO and Zillow provide only crude guesses; another way to get an idea is to ask a Realtor to run the comparables, view your home, and tell you what he or she thinks the home will sell for, realistically.
- Keep an eye on the foreclosed property. Pull weeds, mow the lawn, or have your own lawn service maintain the yard so that it doesn’t turn into a jungle. If you live next door to the house, use your own hose to water the plants enough keep them alive. While it’s true keeping up the house is not your responsibility, this step will help the value of your house by contributing to the value of the vacant house.
- Report code violations to your city’s code enforcement or slum abatement office. Most cities have regulations meant to fight illegal signage and unsightly deterioration. A call to your mayor’s office will give you the phone number. Enlist the city and the law to force the lender that now owns the house to keep the property up.
- Band together with the neighbors to form a specialized block watch for the purpose of protecting the house from prowlers, vandals, and squatters. Report prowlers to the police immediately. Banks commonly board up foreclosed houses that have been burgled or vandalized, creating eyesores that cause even more damage to neighboring homes. So, it’s in your interest to keep this kind of thing from happening.
- Keep up your own home. Tend to your landscaping, keep the paint looking fresh, and refrain from parking your rolling stock on the yard or in the street. If the neighborhood looks well maintained and appealing, the foreclosed property is more likely to attract buyers who will take care of the house and not let it deteriorate further. Such buyers often can afford to pay a little more for the house, which will help your neighborhood’s property values.
- On the other hand, put a hold on any elaborate home improvement projects you may have in mind. Limit improvements to maintenance, paint, and unavoidable necessities. This is not the time to add on a room, gut out and replace the bathrooms, or change out the HVAC system just to get a slightly more efficient unit.
- Don’t sell unless you have to. Just as selling stocks and mutual funds on the downtick locks in your losses, so selling your house when prices are at a low ebb guarantees that you will lose on your home investment. Stay put. Sooner or later the housing market will recover.