The windows are broken. The doors are off their hinges. The walls have been punched through like Swiss cheese. The appliances, curtain rods, faucets and other supposedly built-in fixtures have been ripped out and presumably sold. Paint or perhaps motor oil has been poured over the once-pristine carpets. The basement has been flooded. The plumbing is stopped up, and the stench is indescribable.
All that — and much more — describes the state of many of the homes that are for sale in foreclosure-wracked markets around the country. And much of this destruction has been committed not by vandals or squatters, but instead by the former homeowners themselves as a sort of toxic parting gift for the bank that foreclosed on their mortgage. Some homeowners have even abandoned their pets inside their home with the sure knowledge that a hungry, desperate and trapped animal would add to the destruction.
It’s surprisingly easy for me to imagine the sort of anger that would push a homeowner to destroy his or her own home. Indeed, these homeowners have plenty of reasons to be angry and plenty of people at whom they might want to vent their anger. They’re angry at mortgage brokers who pitched toxic loans.
They’re angry at Realtors who sold houses at inflated prices. They’re angry at public officials who promised them the American dream that turned into a nightmare. They’re angry at today’s homebuyers who can purchase an identical house at half the price. They’re angry at their spouses. They’re angry at themselves. Maybe they’re even angry at their sadly abused pets.
Perhaps most of all, they are angry at the lender who holds the mortgage. While the argument over who is most to blame for the foreclosure crisis will continue for years to come, the destruction of a home hurts no one as much as the lender who foreclosed on the loan and typically must take the loss on the sale of the damaged property.
Some feel compelled to strike back and destroy the asset that secured the foreclosed loan. Faced with that opportunity, they cannot resist the temptation to wreak at least a little havoc before they are evicted from the property that had been their home.
It’s easy to stand back and moralize about the obvious wickedness of such destruction. Since the property technically belongs to the bank, these damaging acts could be classified as vandalism and theft. Moreover, it’s just plain wrong to destroy private property, even if it was yours once upon a time and is now slipping through your fingers.
And yet, while I may agree in theory with those admittedly valid moral arguments, I still have to admit that my true sympathies in these narrow circumstances are mostly with the homeowners. Perhaps my feeling is just as wicked or as equally wrong as the destruction itself, but there it is all the same.
Let’s be honest: Anger is a basic human emotion, and it is by nature destructive. If these almost ex-homeowners didn’t express their anger through these sorts of destructive acts, what else might they do to get themselves through the sorrowful days while they wait to be evicted from their lost home? How else might they release and process their grief and the anger they feel toward others and themselves?
Would we prefer a spike in spousal and child abuse? A rash of suicides? An outbreak of crime sprees? Or maybe even an army of homeowners "going postal" in bank branches around the country? The alternatives aren’t pretty, and it’s pointless to suggest that people should just not be angry when they feel such strong emotions.
Unless we can provide healthier alternatives for these former homeowners to vent their anger, perhaps the damage inflicted on some houses is the least offensive solution for all concerned.
Marcie Geffner is a veteran real estate reporter and former managing editor of Inman News. Her news stories, feature articles and columns about home buying, home selling, homeownership and mortgage financing have been published by a long list of real estate Web sites and newspapers. "House Keys," a weekly column about homeownership, is syndicated in print and on the Web by Inman News. Readers are cordially invited to "friend" the author on Facebook.
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