Community Columns

Whoever holds the mortgage should clean up the yard

We've heard over and over about how valley residents are defaulting on their home loans because of high adjustable rate mortgages coming due, and how we're leading the country in foreclosures. The same story seems to repeat itself weekly, as if there were nothing else to talk about.

Only now, we're beginning to hear more about real estate investors who are gobbling up these homes once they go off to auction.

It's unfortunate that people are losing their homes, but we live in a capitalist country, and sometimes capitalism can be cutthroat.

What I don't understand is why, when banks take possession of a foreclosed home, they let the yards become complete eyesores.

It used to be that repossessed homes were indistinguishable from the ones still lived in on the block. Now, because there are so many more of them, they stick out like sore thumbs. In every new subdivision you can find "For Sale" signs in front yards, lockboxes on front doors and badly neglected lawns with 4-foot-tall weeds in the flower beds.

Few yards of foreclosed homes are being maintained; it's as if no one cares. But there's one problem. Some of us still live in these neighborhoods, and we're trying as hard as we can to maintain them.

What should be done, and who should be doing it?

The companies who hold the mortgages are ultimately responsible for maintaining these houses. When these houses sell, even through auction at bargain prices, the lending companies will get most of the proceeds. So why not hire a property management firm or a professional landscaping company to maintain the yards until they can sell the darn things and so the neighbors don't have to look at them?

Seeing these foreclosed homes becoming run-down does serve a purpose, I suppose, at least philosophically. Their proximity to my home is a sobering reminder of just how close we all might be to a similar fate. Life is fragile; nothing is completely secure. Those weeds represent some family's dream cut short and left to wither. Those weeds say, "This could happen to you; take nothing for granted."

Such philosophical benefits aside, those who hold the loans need to step up and take care of these homes. But who are they?

Those who hold these mortgages, it turns out, aren't always the original lenders. In fact, most of the time they're not. Bundled groups of mortgages are customarily sold by the original lenders without consumer knowledge. Within these bundled mortgages will invariably be some mortgages that are in default, making the trail of ownership that much more difficult to follow.

Whatever the case, the connection to real houses where real people once lived and tended to real lawns and real yards appears to be lost. All the borrowers care about is the money they're losing.

But to those of us who live here, it's more than just a matter of money.

It's our neighborhood.

Mello is a Modesto teacher and a former visiting editor with The Bee. E-mail him at