(ARA) - For many Americans, as they look out the window of their homes, they see what is becoming a nightmare for many people- a foreclosed house on the block. Its yard is overgrown and littered with branches and trash. It has become a lifeless shell, a magnet for trouble and a source of worry as neighbors wonder how the property will affect the value of their homes.
As the nation's foreclosure epidemic continues to rattle the U.S. housing market, neighborhoods across the country are feeling the effects of having a foreclosed home on their block.
"A foreclosure that falls into disrepair can lower the value of other homes on a block," says George Vogl, of Ledford & Wu, a Chicago-based law firm with expertise in bankruptcy and foreclosures. "But don't rush over and start fixing it up. There could be safety issues, and you could be held liable for any repairs you make."
So what should you do if you have a foreclosed home on your block? According to FindLaw.com, the nation's leading source of free online legal information, you and your neighbors can take a number of steps to prevent the property from becoming an eyesore and ruining your community's financial health.
Here are six tips from FindLaw.com on what you and your neighbors can do:
1. Be a good neighbor
If you learn that a neighborhood home is headed for foreclosure, ask what you can do to help the owners maintain their property. Foreclosure may not be the only problem your neighbor is facing, and as a result, he or she may be unaware or in denial that the home is falling into disrepair.
2. Maintain your own homes
If a house goes into foreclosure on your block, talk to your neighbors and encourage each other to keep up the maintenance on your own homes. A future home purchaser who sees that the block's other houses are being kept up will be motivated to purchase a foreclosed home and fix it up to meet the neighborhood's standards.
3. Ask permission
Many people want to just take action - start mowing the lawn or picking up trash in a foreclosed property's yard. Contact your city's building code department to see if you can get permission to do so. Taking action on your own may actually make you liable in the event that something should go wrong with the property, and you could be charged with trespassing.
4. Form a neighborhood watch group
Foreclosed homes can attract all sorts of trouble, such as graffiti, teen drinking, theft and vagrants. Neighbors should watch a foreclosed home carefully, day and night, and immediately report suspicious activity to local police.
5. Report code violations
Homeowners can do little to pressure a bank to maintain a vacant, foreclosed property. But a city can do more. When you see code violations such as an out-of-control yard, broken windows, or garbage and junk on the lawn, report them to city hall - quickly. The more calls that you and your neighbors place to city hall and your elected officials, the greater the chances that your city will take action sooner, rather than later.
6. Help find a buyer
Instead of waiting for someone to buy the foreclosed property, look at it as an opportunity to encourage a friend or family member to move into your neighborhood. If you believe your neighborhood is a great place to live, take the initiative to attract a new neighbor to your block.
For more tips about real estate law and foreclosures, visit FindLaw.com.