New ordinance protects home owners

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Rob Barry of the Medford Transcript for an article about a recently passed ordinance intended to prevent people from abandoning or neglecting properties being foreclosed upon. Abandoned properties are at risk for vandalism and worse, and can even end up threatening the safety of nearby residents. Medford’s new ordinance protects those neighboring home owners and the values of their homes.

That said, Medford’s foreclosure rates are low, and it’s real estate market — especially that of single family homes — is doing well. Here is the full text of the Transcript article.

City passes ordinance to track foreclosed homes
By Rob Barry/rbarry@cnc.com
Medford Transcript
Wednesday, February 18, 2009 

With the increasing number of foreclosures across the city, officials last week passed an ordinance requiring property owners to report a home taking to the Building Department.

Owners of a foreclosed or abandoned property in Medford will now have to keep their building up to code until a new owner is found.

“It’s an unusual time and we need an ordinance like this,” said Mayor Michael J. McGlynn. “It’s of great concern when we’re responding to homes that have basically just been abandoned. People paid too much years ago and now it’s cheaper for them to walk away from it.”

This past fall, the Building Department began putting together a list of abandoned properties in Medford. Building Commissioner Paul Mochi said the list is already hovering around 180.

“This will hopefully be a big help because it’s tough to keep track of them,” said Mochi. “With no ordinance in place, we would just find these out by neighbors calling us.

There are a number of dangers that arise when a property is abandoned without the city’s knowledge, Mochi said, and there have been cases where pipes have burst and “water has literally run out the front door and down the steps.”

Abandoned properties can also be at risk for gas leaks and vandalism.

“If some of these properties are vacant for too long, the kids get in there and start drinking and vandalizing them or setting them on fire,” said Mochi. “There was one property on Gaston Street — the police have been out there a few times. There was evidence of kids lighting candles. I don’t exactly know what they were doing in there, but you know teenagers.”

The building code authorizes the Building Department to board up any abandoned building that is exposed to the elements. But sometimes by the time neighbors tip off the city, the damage is already done. Mochi said this ordinance would likely keep abandoned properties in better shape.

“This isn’t a glamorous ordinance,” said City Councilor Robert Maiocco, who brought the new rules before the council. “I don’t like to see anybody lose their home, but it’s happening. I don’t want to see any blighted or boarded up properties in the city.”

City Solicitor Mark Rumley drafted the ordinance using a similar one from Lowell as the model. He said the ordinance is free of loopholes and will keep abandoned buildings up to sanitary and building codes. As a part of the ordinance, monthly inspections on these properties are required.

“The number of properties that are foreclosed on in an economy like this are rising,” said Rumley. “This ordinance is a giant step towards protecting our community even during these tough economic times.”

Realtor and Medford native, Kristy Bonaventura said the city’s housing market is still much healthier than much of the rest of the state, or country for that matter. Nationally, she said around 30 percent of homes are in a state of foreclosure or short sale.

“Short sale is when the bank is willing to come up short to sell the house,” said Bonaventura. “It’s better for the homeowners because a sign goes out front and nobody knows they’re being foreclosed upon.”

According to data collected from real estate tracking service “Real Trends,” Bonaventura said only 5 percent of homes in Greater Boston are behind on their mortgages.

The health of the housing market is often measured by the absorption rate, the rate at which the inventory of homes for sale is being sold off. Bonaventura said a rate of 10 percent is a strong buyers market whereas a rate of 20 percent indicates sellers are getting top dollar.

At present, Bonaventura said Medford’s absorption rate for single-family houses is 15.1 percent, compared to 10.6 percent nationally and 7.7 percent across Massachusetts.

“So it’s strong,” Bonaventura said. “Prices are more in line with income now. Now buyers can really take time to look, but buyers are also taking a long time to reach a decision.”

The average price of a single-family home in Medford fell approximately 7.3 percent from $385,000 to $357,000 between 2007 and 2008. In addition, average days on the market for single-family homes are up 5.8 percent.

But McGlynn challenges anyone to find a community in the area with as solid a community as Medford.

“You could take other communities and there’s no comparison,” said McGlynn. “Medford is still a very stable community. But for those who got in over their heads, it was a major problem for them.”

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