Fox Valley foreclosures: Big house reflects big problems
By Denise Crosby email@example.com June 19, 2012 5:46PM
Bruce Douglas poses for a portrait on the back patio of his St. Charles home on Tuesday, June 19, 2012, as the unfinished foreclosure property next door looms in the background. Douglas is trying to figure out who is responsible for cleanup of the property, which he said on top of being an eyesore is a public safety hazard to nearby residents. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 21, 2012 6:09AM
I thought our subdivision had it bad. The large home sitting empty for more than three years now, tall weeds camouflaging its still-beautiful exterior, is a blight in our otherwise tidy neighborhood ... not to mention a constant reminder of the real estate bust that sucker-punched so many of us.
But the bank-owned foreclosure I walk the dog past every night is nothing compared to what Bruce Douglas is dealing with a few towns over.
To begin with, the house at the end of Bluff Drive in St. Charles is over 10,000 square feet. And unlike the property in my neighborhood that was occupied for a short time after it was finished, the monstrosity next door to Douglas went into foreclosure before it was even completed.
So he’s dealing with a whole lot more than tall weeds and some cracked masonry. This never-completed mansion — a stark contrast to the much smaller homes around it — features open and broken windows, an eroding foundation, unfinished pool walls, tattered roof tiles and so much construction debris it encroaches on Douglas’ land.
Vandals, he says, have even started fires within the structure.
Plea for help
Douglas is more than a little irritated. In a letter he sent to officials ranging from Congressman Randy Hultgren at the federal level to St. Charles Township Supervisor Jerry Swanson, his frustrations were evident: “Not only does the court need to take action in shepherding this case through to closure, but the township, county and state government have a responsibility to take action ... and to also understand what effect this condition has on the neighborhood and on families living nearby.”
The good news is that under a new Kane County ordinance that went into effect last week, officials can now directly go after these partially-built properties by requiring residential construction to have a finished exterior after one year. After that time, the windows, doors and roof would need to be sealed, according to this amendment to the nuisances and property maintenance section of the county code.
Those changes were made to address homes specifically like this one on Bluff Drive, as well as a handful of others that have sat for too long and have become fire risks and havens to wildlife and vandals, says Mark VanKerkhoff, director of the Kane County Development and Community Services Department.
Enforcement falls behind
The bad news is, while this unfinished mansion on the river may be the mother of all eyesores, tougher ordinances aren’t always enough.
Rhonda Klecz, president of the Illinois Association of Code Enforcement, says municipalities all over the state are struggling to keep up — mowing grass, keeping the properties secured — throughout what she describes as “the limbo stage” of the foreclosure process. That is when the property owner has left and the bank has not yet taken back possession.
“Many of us have been doing more with less, and many of our resources that we were once able to fall back on, are not there or have been cut back because of the economy. So with an already heavy workload, the foreclosures have been an added burden to us all,” Klecz said.
According to county officials, the builder of the Bluff Drive mansion was constructing the home for himself when he ran into financial problems. First Midwest ended up bundling the loan and selling it to Bay View Lending Services out of Florida.
The problem, said Douglas, is Bay View has no incentive to move this thing through the courts any faster because the bank will not only have to maintain the property but also deal with the many mechanical liens filed against it.
Klecz says bank officials insist their hands are tied while these properties are in limbo. But the reality is, she argues, the fine print on a mortgage clearly states lending institutions can step in if the property is not being maintained.
Of course, then the challenge is “pulling them into court,” adds Klecz, to determine who should be mowing the darn weeds.
Laws not enough?
State Sen. Chris Lauzen of Aurora says there have been several new laws passed — including one in Springfield to expedite court proceedings involving foreclosures — that should have a positive effect. But he believes the problem should be tackled “at a local level.” And that might entail bringing together all the people Bruce Douglas contacted out of frustration — federal, state and local lawmakers, county and township officials, judges, even bankers — to choose the best tools to address this issue.
No one believes the solution is easy.
The county informed me City Mortgage was now listed as the owner of the eyesore on my street. Which means the bank is now officially on the hook for making the place look respectable again.
So does that also mean my neighbors can expect this property to shape up in the very near future?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Kane County got an early jump on dealing with foreclosures, and is working hard at trying to keep up, VanKerkhoff points out. But “the list is so extensive, it takes work to get it to the top of the stack.”
Which only means more bad news: Even if you cut down the darn weeds, this problem is going to grow.
COMING FRIDAY: There was a lull in foreclosures for a while here in the Fox Valley, giving officials the false hope the worst was over.