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Monday, September 24, 2007

MMBS: Bikes on the Balcony!

by Tanta on 9/24/2007 02:34:00 PM

Ye Gods. That's almost as bad as laundry in the backyard.

The Wall Street Journal treats us to "The Invasion of Renters." I for one am unable to determine how far my leg is being pulled here, or how seriously this reporter is taking his own story. We begin with the familiar narrative build-up:

Mark Spector was happy with his new neighborhood. Then the renters started moving in.

In 2004, Mr. Spector and his wife, Deanna, paid $350,000 for a six-bedroom house in Bridgewater, a new development in Wesley Chapel, Fla., about 25 miles north of Tampa. They moved into their home and looked forward to meeting their neighbors.

Then Florida's once-feverish housing market started to cool. Investors who'd bought a large percentage of the properties in Bridgewater found they couldn't flip them for a quick profit, and brought in tenants, instead. By last year, Mr. Spector estimates, close to half of the residents in the subdivision of 750-plus homes were renters.
I have no idea how Mr. Spector can keep tabs on the occupancy status of 750 homes; I'm just glad he isn't my neighbor. Anyway, you're wondering what happened next, right?
The result, Mr. Spector says: overgrown lawns, drug deals in the park and loud parties in the "frat houses" down the street. "You'll see some driveways with a dozen cars parked in the driveway and on the grass," he says.
So, basically, we don't like abandoned homes, we don't like unsold homes, and we don't like renters. We also don't want to drop our sales prices so that those homes can be sold to owner-occupants. I am torn between wondering how bad those parties really are--as if owner-occupants never have parties that involve more than 12 parked cars--and wondering what people expected in the no-doc mortgage frenzy. Anecdotal evidence suggests that at least some of those no-doc loans involved drug money laundering to start with. How renters could be worse news than the owners is hard to fathom.

The extent of the problem is also hard to get a grasp on:
In another manifestation of the housing slump, thousands of property owners across the country are now renting out homes they cannot sell. As a result, developments and condos that once were largely owner-occupied are filling up with renters who some neighbors say are less engaged in their communities and less concerned about maintenance.
"Thousands"? Across the whole country? How many thousands?

I don't know, but I do know that mixing horror stories of drug deals and criminal complaints with stuff like this is not winning sufficient sympathy from me:
Denver, Colo., resident Neval Gupta says that when his 63-unit condo complex began running into problems as the number of renters grew, the board stepped up enforcement of its rules, including bans on storing bicycles on balconies and doing auto repairs in the parking garage. "We really crack down on the owners now to be accountable for their renters," says Mr. Gupta, the president of the condo board. "We do have a problem with some owners who put any renter they can find in there."

Mr. Gupta and other residents say such vigilance has helped cut down on some problems. But it has also created new ones. Craig White, who bought his unit as an investment and rents it out, says his last tenants left when they got tired of being "harassed" by over-zealous owner-occupants. "If you put your bike out [on the balcony] for a day or two, you're going to get a phone call," Mr. White says.
Just exactly when did "auto repairs" become a problematic thing to do in a garage? Are we really talking about someone blocking access with a major engine rebuild, or just some poor sap topping off the washer fluid? Do you trust anyone who has convulsions over a bike on a balcony to tell the difference?
Of course, plenty of renters cut their grass, take in the garbage cans and turn down the music at 9 p.m. And not all homeowners are model neighbors. Denise Bower, of Community Management, Inc., which manages 122 developments around Portland, Ore., says renters are often more responsive to complaints because they know they run the risk of losing their leases if they don't. "I have more problems with owners, by far," Ms. Bower says. "They get stubborn."
No, really? Might that stubborness be why some of these owners "have to" rent the place? Can't get more than what you paid in 2005?