Foreclosure and vengeance

Today’s Wall Street Journal reports (subscription required) on a growing practice: foreclosing lenders and auction purchasers of foreclosed homes are paying the former owners cash to leave the properties without vandalizing them. The payments, which range from hundreds to thousands of dollars, are considered a “win-win” because they give the foreclosed owner some cash while saving the foreclosing lender or purchaser from many thousands of dollars in damage to the foreclosed asset. An experienced eye can distinguish between random violence by trespassers–graffiti, broken glass, etc.–from the “frenzy of destruction” caused by an “enraged, delinquent mortgagor:”

Light switches, outlet covers and thermostats were smashed. There was what looked to be crowbar damage along the staircase. A large pool of paint had hardened on the living-room carpet. It appeared that someone had dripped motor oil in a trail that wound its way through every carpeted room. The appliances were gone, as were most light fixtures. A cabinet door had been removed and left soaking in a full tub of water. Not a wall was left without a hole the diameter of a closet rod, including the pink child’s room once carefully decorated with a floral wallpaper stripe.

The story closes with the tale of a foreclosed owner who, when offered $500 to vacate quickly, points out that it will cost the bank a lot more if he stays. He said he did not intend to damage the house, he was merely pointing out that eviction is more expensive than a cooperative move-out. The bank upped its offer to $2,800 and the man left, the house broom clean and undamaged.