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Deadbeat Ghost Neighbors

Can you call someone your neighbor if they never moved into their house?

We’ve got a “situation” in our neighborhood, one that is being repeated time again across the country as houses depreciate, homeowners don’t pay their mortgages, and houses fall into foreclosure and then disrepair.

Two years ago we had a real neighbor living in this house. Oscar and Gloria actually occupied the house, maintained it, and kept it full of life. They decided to move to Arizona and put it up for sale in early 2006, and it sold quickly. The new owner showed up and immediately started on a series of cosmetic improvements. He cleaned up the back yard, created a raised-bed garden, and built a nice roof over his patio. As is our custom for new neighbors, we baked them some cookies and went over to introduce ourselves. We met him and his wife, who was from Thailand.

My wife Carmen happened to notice that our neighbor actually had his house listed in the MLS (Multiple Listing Service) while he was living in it. There was no for-sale sign out front, so this was a “quiet” listing. We were puzzled, and decided that he was a “flipper” — someone who buys houses, makes some minor improvements, and hopes to sell it at a profit within a very short time frame.

The house went quiet and dark, and we heard indirectly that he went to Thailand with his wife. Time passed. From time to time a pickup truck would come by and remove a piece of furniture or two. A lawn service would cut the grass every so often as well.

At the end of 2006 a foreclosure notice showed up on the front door and the house was sold at auction in March of 2007. It was then re-sold the next day (or so it seems based on the information in Zillow) for $85K more than the auction price.

Days after the sale, some work crews showed up and there was a buzz of activity around the house. We were eagerly anticipating the arrival of some new neighbors.

After a few weeks the work slowed and then stopped entirely and the house grew quiet. Time passed. We noticed the lack of activity and decided that something wasn’t right. I peeked in the front and side windows early in the summer and found that the work crews had stopped in mid-project, leaving their tools behind. I’ve been watching the front door and have seen the disconnection notices for the water and the gas already. Because the doorbell still lights up, I believe that the electricity is still on. Also, the previous owner had set up a wireless network and I can still see it from my laptop!

It is now 6 months since the last sale and the house has been sitting there unloved for months. The backyard flowerbeds are overgrown with weeds, but the grass is getting cut.

A month or so ago I managed to track down the lender and sent an email to the senior loan officer. I put delivery and read receipts on the message and both came back, so I know they received and read my message. I basically told the loan officer that the house was sitting empty and that it was a fire and safety hazard. I did not get a response from the lender.

At this point I don’t know exactly who owns the house, so I can’t even invite you to come and be my neighbor here in Sammamish. Most likely, the owners are not paying the mortgages (there are two, adding up to 100% of the purchase price) and the lender will have to foreclose on this house again.

Update 1: After some digging and Googling and changing one owner’s name into an informal equivalent I found a blog which may be theirs! I scrolled back and there’s nothing about buying a house in the last year, but they do live in Seattle and this is the only match for their names. The blog noted that they are both on Facebook so I sent notes to each of them. Let’s see what happens!