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Sunday, Oct 22, 2017
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Even ritzy homes sit in foreclosure for years

LUTZ - The half-built, million-dollar house in the swanky, gated Sanctuary on Livingston community is abandoned by an owner who can't afford it and forgotten by a lender uninterested in taking it back. No one is mowing the lawn and construction debris is piled high. A foreclosure lawsuit was filed three years ago, but the case didn't move forward. Now, it's the neighborhood's problem. And that of code enforcement officers who say they haven't gotten a response from the owner or the lender. There is $34,800 in code violation fines.
"The longer banks wait to foreclose, the more violations occur," said Bill Langford, a supervisor with Hillsborough County Code Enforcement. "You start with tall grass, but you end up with broken windows, unsecured pools and vagrants." Homes in some stage of foreclosure are scattered all over the Tampa Bay area. Many have been sitting empty for years. Others still have owners there, living rent free while they wait out - or fight - lenders. The housing bust resulted in millions of foreclosures nationwide. Some are in such bad shape that banks don't want the homes. In some states, such as Florida, where a judge must approve foreclosures, lenders can drag their feet for years. In Tampa, homeowners can stop paying their mortgage for about for about 285 days before lenders even begin the legal process of taking the house back, according to data compiled by LPS Applied Analytics, which provides technology and data to the mortgage industry. And once a foreclosure suit is filed, it takes about 673 days before the house is sold and the homeowner kicked out, the data show. It can take 307 days for the average Florida home to receive its first foreclosure notice. That puts it near the top of the list for states that are slow to initiate foreclose, putting it just behind Maryland, Massachusetts, New York and California. Brian Zuckerman, who lives in the Sanctuary on Livingston, said the home and abandoned lots in the subdivision are frustrating. "When you're spending that kind of money on a house, you expect it be in a upscale type neighborhood," Zuckerman said. "So if you're going out your door in the morning, you don't want to see houses that are uncompleted or, in this case, lots that are overgrown." Zuckerman recently sold a home he helped build in the neighborhood. He said it cost more than $900,000 to build. It listed for $1.1 and sold for around $680,000. The value would have fallen anyway, he said, but it was difficult to sell the home because of foreclosures. The unfinished home is across the street from the home Zuckerman sold. "I had a husband and wife, and the wife really wanted the house," Zuckerman said. "The husband was worried about his investment." Realtor Andrew Duncan, of Keller Williams, handled the transaction. Banks should work faster to resale homes that owners can't keep, he said. "There is some positive in banks working slowly because it gives homeowners more time to work something out," Duncan said. "But when the people clearly can't keep the home, it's a big downside for the people left in the neighborhood."

Reporter Shannon Behnken can be reached at (813) 259-7804 or sbehnken@tampatrib.com. Follow her on Twitter @TBORealtyCheck.

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