As the number of homeowners poised to lose their homes more than doubled in a year, Property Appraiser Mike Wells this week launched a project to identify neighborhoods in the county hard hit by foreclosures.
Wells wants to ensure the value of foreclosed properties are accurately appraised, as a reflection of the home's upkeep and the quality of the neighborhood. He's working with Pasco Clerk of Circuit Court Jed Pittman to send appraisers to market-battered areas identified from Pittman's foreclosure filings.
"It's my view that if a neighborhood has an extraordinary amount of foreclosures in it, it may affect the market value of the entire neighborhood," Wells said. "I want to find out where they are. The only way I'll know (the values) for sure is to put a man on the street."
Wells likened the rising tide of foreclosures to the havoc played on home values by the no-name storm of 1993, when entire neighborhoods of west Pasco were flooded.
"It's my view that the extraordinary number of foreclosures need to be observed firsthand," he said. "We're trying to get a feel for the neighborhoods, see if the properties have been maintained properly and what the selling prices are."
Foreclosure filings in Pasco have more than doubled in the last year.
In March 2007, roughly a year after the housing market downturn began here, there were 297 foreclosure filings. That number relentlessly climbed through the year, reaching 617 last month, according to data provided by Pittman's office.
Part of Wells' project, which began this week, could also be directed at identifying possible cases of mortgage fraud. Signs of mortgage fraud include homes that have prices inflated beyond appraised values and begin to slip into foreclosure almost immediately after their purchase. They hint at a strategy to secure large mortgages that the buyers never intend to pay back.
But the project's main focus is to reflect true value by actual inspections on the ground, as opposed to using analyses by aerial photographs, Wells said.
"You want to know what amenities there are," he said. "How well do your neighbors maintain property? How's the paint? Is the house well groomed? What's the quality of the neighborhood? Say somebody moves out; the lienholder is responsible for taking care of the property. Has it been maintained? Has it been abandoned? Has it been damaged? What are the listing prices nearby?"
Wells didn't know how long the project would take. If he publicizes the findings, it could equate to another market shock for the remaining homeowners in foreclosure-heavy neighborhoods.
"It's definitely going to affect the value of your property," said Russ Perlowski, a Pasco Realtor who runs a popular real estate blog, www.newtampahomes.blogspot.com. "Real estate is very local. If it's one or two foreclosures, it's not significant. But there's a multitude, your value has gone down significantly."
Foreclosure-heavy neighborhoods could also take a toll on home equity loans, or second mortgages.
"People who take a home equity line of credit, those who have an open line of credit, the lender could say, 'We're not willing to give you so much now,' " Perlowski said.
Declining values don't automatically mean property tax savings for homestead owners.
That's because the Save Our Homes tax cap limits assessment increases to 3 percent a year, which in Florida lagged real market growth for years. Even in a downturn, appraisers must continue to ratchet up the assessment on these protected homes until it matches the market value.
Chuin-Wei Yap can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4613.