"They're just trashed, paint thrown everywhere and shooting BBs up through the ceiling," a local titling agent said. "In one place, I was told they lined up beer bottles in front of a stone fireplace and were shooting."
Not all foreclosed properties are like that, but that's one reason some lenders offer cash to the homeowners being forced to leave.
"They offer that individual a certain amount of money to leave damage-free and in broom-clean condition," Realtor Rick Baker said. "Cash for keys."
It's not clear how many foreclosed properties are on the market in the Tri-State area. In the past year, a total of 716 foreclosures have been filed in Washington County alone.
The actions have increased since mid-2006, when the area's red-hot real estate market grew cold as teaser-term mortgages began adjusting to higher rates, credit standards tightened and, more recently, rising gasoline prices taxed commuters' budgets even more.
Recently, partial relief has been given by some lenders, financially squeezed themselves as more of their assets become deeds to houses costly to maintain and hard to sell. Some homeowners have been able to negotiate changes in their loan terms.
Nine out of 10 homeowners nationwide still are doing OK. Some struggle on, unable to refinance because the loans are higher than their houses are now worth. And some continue to lose their homes to lenders.
Baker, 45, of Long & Foster Real Estate Inc., has been selling foreclosed properties for lenders, along with his "regular" properties, since he moved to Hagerstown 10 years ago.
"I'm not the only Realtor that does foreclosures," he said. "Actually, every company in this valley has a Realtor who does the same."
Baker said foreclosures have occurred in every economy.
"I usually always have a handful, probably a dozen, even when we weren't in this," he said.
The number has increased gradually, Baker said. Now, he said, he has a total of about 50 listed in Franklin County, Pa., and in Allegany, Washington and Frederick counties in Maryland.
Baker declined to name the lenders he represents.
"To be honest with you, I don't even give them to Realtors" who show his listings along with their own, he said.
Finding new buyers
One such Realtor is Turgeon, 46, who has been in real estate here for four years and now is with Mackintosh Realtors. Believing that the market is focused on foreclosures now, she advertised recently that she would be hosting a van tour of such properties.
Calls came in from "a mixture of new first-time (house hunters), and I'm also getting investors. And then, I'm just getting people who are curious," she said.
The first tour was canceled because callers didn't want to wait, but now, Turgeon said she has scheduled another for June.
"My motivation is to find new buyers in a market where it's hard to find those," she said.
A typical bargain is a View Street house in Hagerstown that was taken back by the lender and is for sale for $170,000, Turgeon said. The three-bedroom colonial, with fenced-in backyard and new carpeting and paint, "would have sold for $250,000 two years ago," she said.
Baker said the lenders set the prices on each property after Realtors and appraisers determine its "fair market value." That is based on what comparable properties in the area have sold for in the last six months, he said.
The lenders don't tell him how much of the mortgage still was owed on each property, but, Baker said, he doesn't doubt that today's list prices are less than the debt because of the market's ongoing crisis.
If, for instance, a house sold for $430,000 four years ago, "now that same house is probably closer to around $320,000," Baker said. "But see, that's on the higher end, and the higher end is not really what's moving. Take ranchers ... in the 280s about three years ago, now those same ranchers are probably like down in the 220s."
In addition to that, the prices on foreclosed properties often are a bit lower because the houses, through wear and tear, neglect or vandalism "tend to need some repairs," Baker said. "For the average homeowner, this does give them a window where they could afford to buy, and be able to put some sweat equity into it."