Back in May, the township secretary left notice that the tall lawn was violating an ordinance. FedEx stopped by three times; nobody was home.
And nobody has been home at 18 Virginia Ave. in Shrewsbury Township for months, as is evidenced by the rain-crinkled notes and the overgrown lawn, the mowing of which the township eventually took into its own hands.
The nicely manicured lawn at 20 Virginia Ave. shames the absent neighbors. Mike and Janet Caum's view of the house next door includes a driveway full of rusting paint cans and other junk left behind when sheriff's sale could no longer be staved off.
On this and
Around the block and a few streets over in this 40-year-old development, another couple of homes are listed for sheriff
sale. A few others have already been sold.
Growing numbers: Across York County, the number of homes listed for sheriff sale increased from 706 in 2005 to 1,273 in 2008. That's an 80.3 percent increase. And if the trend continues, the number of homes listed will reach 1,412 this year.
Many homeowners are able to prevent the sale of a property after it's listed, but the number of homes actually sold at sheriff sale over the past four years increased 55.3 percent, from 349 in 2005 to 542 in 2008. And if current trends continue, the sheriff will sell 696 homes by the end of the year.
But unlike other areas across the United States, York doesn't have the geographic hotbeds of foreclosure activity that exist elsewhere, according to a records analysis completed by The York Dispatch.
The analysis showed the most foreclosures on file at the Sheriff's Department -- 899 of them -- were filed from the zip code 17404, which encompasses
Next was 17403 (York City and some surrounding areas), with 667 filings, and 17331 (Hanover), with 345 filings.
But those zip codes are also among the county's most populous, with the most potential housing units available for possible mortgage default.
All over: Housing officials said the distribution of the foreclosures seems to be influenced by a variety of factors, including the amount of new development and the number of housing units in a particular area.
It doesn't appear that specific developers or specific developments have been touched more than others.
Steve Snell, executive officer for the Realtors Association of York and Adams Counties, said his experience has shown
He said he would suspect a higher number of foreclosures in new developments, but the current data don't show such a trend.
"While you hear about whole neighborhoods being foreclosed nationally, that's not stereotypic for York," said Leigh Smith, executive director of the Housing Alliance of York, a nonprofit that offers free counseling for people facing foreclosure. "Lots of people have tried to speculate on why (that's not happening in York), but we don't know why.
"As much as you think about exotic mortgages causing this ... this is loss of work, loss of income. It's a total change in the
In York, people are losing their homes because of issues like divorce or losing their job as a result of the economy, she said.
When the Housing Alliance asked homeowners why they defaulted on their mortgages, an increase in loan payments ranked fourth among the reasons.
In a query of 286 records, the most common reason for entering foreclosure was loss of income (123), followed by a reduction of income (43), medical issues (33), then an increase in the loan amount (31). People also cited divorce, death, business failure and poor money management as reasons.
Sell it, again: Regardless of the reason for default, the homes eventually re-enter York's slow housing market, which is already saturated with short-sales, sales where a homeowner "knows they're in trouble" and arranges to sell a home for less than they owe.
These sales, and foreclosures, can be a blessing for a first-time homebuyer looking for a deal, but a challenge to real estate agents who try to sell the neglected properties, agents said.
Snell said the conditions of the home can be a challenge. People who couldn't afford to pay their mortgage probably didn't do much preventive maintenance, he said.
"When a buyer knows they're in foreclosure, they just walk away and leave it in a state that would not be typical of the state a normal seller would leave it in," he said.
"Many of them know they're not going to get a penny out of it. In some cases, there's frustration and anger that they're in that situation ... and they're hustling to find out where they're going to live."
Bargains: But the condition of foreclosures can make them a bargain for first-time homebuyers, said real estate agent Patricia Carey, who's also president of RAYAC.
She recently walked a couple of would-be first-time homeowners through three foreclosures, each bargain-priced if the flaws could be overlooked.
The first, a $99,000 single-family home on North Williams Street in West York, was "very rough," she said.
"They had tore up carpets, I guess because of the conditions, to make it look better," she said. "But then you have the old rubber backing stuck to the floor. The kitchen was just absolutely gross. It would take six to nine months of cleaning. It was just filthy and just needed to be torn out."
The next house, on North Diamond Street in West York, was for sale for $109,000 and was in "OK" condition, Carey said. However, the client kept complaining because the home smelled of cat urine. The bathroom was also very dated, Carey said.
A third home, on Second Avenue in York Suburban School District, cost $104,900. It was in move-in condition, despite the antiquated heating system, and Carey said the price is a bargain for a single-family home in Suburban schools.
"If the market was better, you wouldn't even be touching anything in these school districts," she said, adding she remembers the days when semi-detached homes in this particular neighborhood were selling for $140,000.
The future: While current trends show the median sale price of homes decreasing, Carey and other housing professionals are straining to see an end to the housing crisis.
While she says she wants to be optimistic about some glimmers of hope in the York market, Carey said she sees a lot of sad stories and worries about the future because unemployment is high and the housing market is inextricably tied to many factors in the economy.
Harley-Davidson, one of York's biggest employers, is considering relocating work from its Springettsbury Township plant to another state. If it does, the York housing market would be sent into a tailspin, Carey said.
About 2,000 people would lose their jobs at the same time, and it's possible many of them wouldn't be able to keep their home or would decide to move.
"If that many people lose their jobs, what do you do?" Carey asked. "If you've got that many people trying to get out of Dodge all at one time ... there would be a flood of properties in the market all over again. That could push things in a negative way all over again."
-- Reach Christina Kauffman at 505-5436 or ckauffman@yorkdis patch.com.
In 2008, a record number of York County homeowners applied for state assistance loans to pay their mortgage.
York is ranked seventh among the state's 67 counties for the number of applications for the Homeowners Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program, run through the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency.
Homeowners who find themselves in trouble with their mortgage because of some type of hardship -- job loss, underemployment, marital problems or medical issues, for example -- can apply for a one-time or continuing loan from the state.
About the program:
People can begin to apply for the Homeowners Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program once they fall 60 days delinquent on their mortgage. The lender must send a notice telling the homeowners they can apply for emergency mortgage assistance.
The homeowner would then call one of the counseling agencies listed for the county. The counselor works with the homeowner with budgeting and the application.
The state has 60 days to review the application after it's received. The entire process of applying can take as long as six months, during which the lender cannot proceed with foreclosure because the homeowner is trying to get help.
If the application is accepted, the amount to be lent is computed based on the homeowner's earnings, utility bills and mortgage amount.
A homeowner could be lent as much as $60,000 over 24 months from the state. The state would record a lien on the house, and charge a maximum of 6.5 percent interest.
Applicants must be able to demonstrate that they will be able to resume their mortgage payments within 24 months.
They also must demonstrate some type of hardship, such as job loss, underemployment, marital problems or medical issues.
The Housing Alliance, 35 S. Duke St., is a nonprofit organization that offers counseling for the state's housing programs. The Alliance has seen a large increase in requests for counseling, starting last year.
In 2006, the Alliance counseled 281 people. That number jumped to 316 in 2007, and 433 in 2008. For the first six months of 2009, the Alliance counseled 326 people. If trends continue, the Alliance will counsel 648 people this year.
The most sub-prime activity in York was recorded between 2002 and 2007, according to executive director Leigh Smith.
Sub-prime loans can have adjustable rates, causing the homeowner's payment amount to increase significantly and making the payment unaffordable. Many of the rates jump after between two and five years, so a homeowner who was issued a sub-prime mortgage in 2007 might be able to afford it until 2012, Smith said.
Beware of scams:
Smith warned that some unethical companies who claim to be able to stop foreclosure are soliciting those who have fallen behind on their mortgage, including Yorkers.
The companies claim that, for a fee, they can guarantee a homeowner will remain in their home, she said. They take the struggling homeowner's money and "when you call back, the place closed up shop," she said.
Consumers can safeguard themselves by making sure they select a counseling agency that's approved by the state. For more information about the mortgage assistance program, visit www.phfa.org/consumers/homeowners/hemap.aspx or call the Housing Alliance of York at 854-1541.
Sources: Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, the Housing Alliance of York. --Staff writer Christina Kauff man.