Picture the typical foreclosed home, and a nondescript tract house or run-down bungalow might first pop to mind.
But the real estate bust and foreclosure crisis hit all parts of the Tampa Bay area, even such high-end communities as Tampa's Avila and Pinellas County's Bayou Club.
Of the bay area's 1,285 bank-owned homes currently on the market, 20 are listed for more than $500,000, including one — a lakefront mansion built by corporate raider Paul Bilzerian — priced at almost $5 million.
Like foreclosures on the low end of the scale, though, these opulent dwellings speak of a time when banks were making loans to almost everyone who walked through the door. All of the priciest bank-owned homes were bought or refinanced in the period between 2004 and 2008 when even people of modest income or no income at all could take on massive amounts of mortgage debt.
"Most of these are owner-occupied properties where the owner has just fallen behind on very large monthly payments," says Peter Chicouris, a Pinellas Realtor who specializes in foreclosures.
"It seems the banks are more patient on these higher-end properties because they have more to lose with the property deteriorating," Chicouris adds. "And it seems these homeowners are a little more astute in the sense they know how to have legal representation to jump through some hoops to bide time and slow the (foreclosure) process."
One of the most expensive Tampa Bay foreclosures currently listed is a five-bedroom, 61/2-bath home in Bayou Club Estates bought by a convenience store operator in 2008. He paid $1.375 million, got loans for most of that amount and stopped making payments in 2010.
After the bank started to foreclose, the man managed to hang on to the house for several years by repeatedly filing bankruptcy petitions. When a judge barred him from refiling for a year, the bank took back the house and put it on the market in June for $1.15 million.
Other foreclosed borrowers whose high-end homes are for sale represent a cross section of Tampa Bay's population — a dentist, a Realtor, a financial planner and a high school graduate who did well in the beeper business.
Two years ago, a Louisiana bank repossessed the 28,000-square-foot Avila mansion erected by Bilzerian, who moved to a prison cell after being found guilty of illegal stock manipulation. Since the 10-bedroom house on 3.4 acres was listed in 2013, the price has been reduced twice and now stands at $4.995 million.
For those looking for exclusivity at a less expensive cost, another foreclosure is being marketed ''as an amazing opportunity to get into Avila at a great price." Listed at $749,900, the former home of a rare-coin dealer is among the cheapest properties in a gated community whose residents include former Tampa Bay Rays owner Vince Naimoli.
Even at that price, the 5,266-square-foot house isn't much of a bargain. Listing agent Jamie Meloni estimates it would take as much as $200,000 to bring it up to Avila standards.
"It looks really nice, but it has a lot of wood rot and other issues," Meloni says. "It needs a good bit of work, and typically, those who buy in Avila don't want to do a lot of work."
Another pricey foreclosure requiring extensive renovations is a 5,800-square-foot home on Boca Ciega Bay in St. Pete Beach.
"It was a sketchy situation," Chicouris, the listing agent, says in summarizing the property's bizarre history.
It sold in 2007 for $1.545 million, with the buyer financing most of that. She stopped paying a year later and moved to the Fort Myers area after the bank began foreclosing.
In 2013, according to court records, a St. Petersburg woman sent her a letter with an "agreement to take possession and tenancy."
"As you are aware, this property has been uninhabited for many months and is in a current state of disrepair and rapidly deteriorating," the letter read. "Please respond within 10 days … otherwise, I will assume by your silence that you approve of this arrangement. I look forward to fixing this house up as my new home and making it the pride of the neighborhood!"
The same person then tried to stall the foreclosure by filing a "maritime agricultural lien" on the waterfront property.
When the bank finally took back the house in May, Chicouris found it occupied by people who apparently had been living there rent-free for years. They were evicted, leaving behind a home that was missing sections of carpeting and that had been stripped of much of the cabinetry and plumbing fixtures.
"I don't believe they were paying the electricity very well, because they had the windows open and it was 90 degrees out," Chicouris says. "They ended up, obviously, devaluing the property."
He describes the house, which has an indoor swimming pool, as "odd" and in fair condition, though still structurally sound. It recently went on the market for $1.275 million — the most of any bay area foreclosure except Bilzerian's — and it "probably would take a couple of hundred (thousand dollars) to get it up and running," Chicouris says.
Within the next two months, Chicouris expects to list a Pinellas Point home with wide-open views of Tampa Bay. The borrower hasn't paid either the mortgage or the homeowners association dues in more than three years, yet is still living there.
"From what I understand, it's in disarray," Chicouris says. "It was built in 2001, so it's not that old, but the roof is leaking and some of the interior is not finished off, so it's going to need some work."
What do banks do when they have to take back such a property?
"Mainly preservation," Chicouris says, ''starting from the roof and working your way down."
But, he adds, a new roof alone can cost more than many bay area residents earn in a year.
"The problem is that a roof on a house like this can be $35,000 to $50,000. You've got to remember — these are big, tall houses with lots of square footage."
Contact Susan Taylor Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate.