NEW PORT RICHEY
Promptly at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Pasco sheriff's Cpl. Randy Ganter parks his cruiser outside the house at 6350 Bandura Ave. On a block of small but neatly kept homes, it is an eyesore of scraggly weeds and peeling paint. ¶ Ganter is here to execute a writ of possession. In other words, to evict a family whose home has been repossessed by the bank.
With Florida's foreclosure rate the nation's third highest, Gov. Charlie Crist and state mortgage lenders have agreed to stop most home foreclosures for 45 days. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the nation's two largest mortgage finance companies, are also observing a moratorium during the holidays.
But it's too late for places like this.
In a few minutes, Ganter is joined by a subcontractor who represents the lender. The two men walk past the baby stroller and the overturned child's desk. They stop at the front door, where someone has scrawled a message on the final order of eviction.
"I bought the house in 1992. I lost my job and I have four kids. I hope this makes you happy.''
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It's a story repeated all over America — people who tapped their home equity when times were good, only to lose almost everything when the economy soured.
Edward Kessler, a carpenter, was 23 when he bought the Bandura Avenue house 16 years ago for $38,250. After divorcing his first wife, he married a woman who had a child. They had four more kids; one died at nine months of sudden infant death syndrome.
By 2005, the two-bedroom house needed major remodeling. The real estate market was at its peak, so Kessler had no problem refinancing through Option One, a subprime lender. He borrowed $89,250 at 8.55 percent interest; his monthly payments jumped from $460 to $850.
Things were okay for a time. Then the marriage unraveled and he temporarily moved out. He sliced two fingers with a saw and couldn't work for weeks. As construction slowed, there was less demand for carpenters.
Kessler was already in default by September 2007, when his payments shot to $1,100. Option One started foreclosure proceedings, and his estranged wife, Diana, pleaded for time to make up what they owed.
"If you'll consider giving me the chance, I will do what is necessary to keep a roof over" my children's heads, she wrote. The company wouldn't deal with her because her name wasn't on the deed.
The Kesslers divorced last spring, agreeing to share custody of the kids. He won possession of the house and moved back in.
In October, with no payments in more than a year, the house reverted to the lender. Two days before Thanksgiving, this notice appeared on the front door:
"A court order has been issued requiring that all persons and their possessions be removed from these premises. If this is not done by 24 hours it will be necessary for the Pasco Sheriff's Office to remove all person and property.''
Cpl. Ganter tries the front door. It's dead-bolted and neither he nor Ronald Kaye, the lender's representative, has a key.
"Okay, guys, find me a way in,'' Ganter says.
"Robbie, get the tool bag!'' Kaye hollers to his assistant.
In some foreclosures — dubbed "cash-for-keys'' — the lender pays the homeowner to vacate the premises voluntarily and turn over the keys. But when a foreclosure gets to the eviction stage, a law enforcement officer must be present to ensure that everyone is out and that no firearms or other dangerous items are left behind.
After trying several windows, Kaye gets in through a back door and unlocks the front. Ganter does a quick walk-through, peering in closets and under counters.
"All right,'' he tells Kaye, "the house is yours."
Ganter is one of three deputies who serve writs of possession and other court orders. Before the foreclosure moratorium, he was doing as many as four or five evictions a day.
This house looks better than some he has seen, including one where the owner left his dogs alone for a week and didn't clean up the mess. Other houses have been stripped bare.
Although 6350 Bandura Ave. is missing its kitchen sink and dishwasher, a stainless steel refrigerator remains along with some furniture and toys. That people leave so many of their children's possessions saddens Ganter, who has two stepsons.
"A lot of times they forego the toys because the kids are small and can't drag them out themselves. But when the kids wake up tomorrow, they want to know where their toys are.''
Ed Kessler beat the eviction team to the punch and moved out last week, glad to be rid of the house where two marriages failed and his son died. A family friend is letting him stay in a house she owns in exchange for fixing it up.
Diana Kessler could not be reached for comment. Court records show she is living in Spring Hill and is supposed to get $480 a month in child support.
During the week, her ex-husband designs Web sites. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday he delivers pizza. "I fight all weekend to bring home 100 bucks,'' he says.
Still, Kessler thinks his luck is turning. He got a free house and now a man who was surprised to see him making deliveries in an '85 Buick has offered to give him a better car.
"The only thing you really need to be concerned about is waking up,'' Kessler says. "If you can appreciate that, you'll be okay.''
After the deputy leaves, Kaye and his assistants change the locks, clear out the house and pile everything in the driveway. By law, homeowners have 24 hours to claim their personal property. Otherwise it'll be hauled to the dump.
Once he gets the lender's go-ahead, Kaye's company will do a major cleanup, repairs and lawn work. ''It'll look like a different house when we're done,'' he says.
Within a few weeks 6350 Bandura Ave. could be on the market — one of at least 36,525 houses and condos in the Tampa Bay area looking for a buyer.
Times researchers Carolyn Edds and Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Susan Taylor Martin can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.