My husband and I looked at each other. There certainly wasn't anything left to look at inside the townhouse. No stove or refrigerator. No washer or dryer. No light fixtures. No flooring, anywhere. Even the baseboards were pried away from the walls, nails strewn around.
This was a townhouse in Arlington Heights for sale. It was abandoned and stripped. Only the dust was left.
Another foreclosed home in Elk Grove Village had an ominous odor that we noticed immediately as we opened the front door. Once inside, we saw that the toilet had been ripped out of the bathroom floor and tossed into a nearby bedroom. Splintered wood was everywhere. We peered through the jagged hole directly into the crawlspace below.
A home in Des Plaines had holes in the walls. The copper wiring was missing.
We had asked some Realtors to show us homes for sale in the Northwest suburbs for roughly $250,000. They were rough, all right. The vast majority were foreclosures that were vacant for several months. And since these were owned by banks or other lenders, and they weren't the occupants, they weren't required to provide any reports on the home. In these cases, the buyer was responsible for arranging and paying for all building and pest inspections and surveys.
Illinois had about 7,300 bank-owned homes during the first quarter, including about 5,200 in Cook, DuPage, Lake, McHenry and Will counties, according to data from RealtyTrac.
While these homes sit vacant on the market, no data is available to show how many of them have been stripped. But some suburban Realtors estimate stripped homes could be in the hundreds.
As foreclosures increase, banks and other lenders are being deluged with such properties and they turn to Realtors to sell them. Some Realtors said these homes could have been stripped by former owners angry about the foreclosure. Or vandals may have preyed on the empty homes.
Jim Marzullo, a broker-manager at Prudential Starck Realtors in Bloomingdale, has seen all kinds while selling properties around the suburbs. Still, he was shocked when he saw a home in Romeoville, near Naperville, that listed around $155,000 - about $50,000 below market value.
"As we walked in, the first thing we noticed was the beautiful hardwood floors. Then we saw the rest of the house," said Marzullo.
The interior doors were literally ripped from their frames. All the appliances were ripped from the walls. They were all gone. So were the light fixtures.
"But the best, or worst, was the fireplace, or the hole where the fireplace was torn out," said Marzullo. "Yes, the fireplace was torn out of the surrounding drywall. The floors that had carpeting were all stained with, I don't even want to imagine. There were numerous holes of varying sizes in the walls. When we went down to the basement, I still don't know why, all the walls that were dry walled were covered with black mold."
After seeing that, the potential buyer walked away. Quickly.
Marzullo said he believes the damage was likely caused by the previous owner, angry at the foreclosure process
"It's a shame if they couldn't afford the house," he said. "But at least they should leave it as they found it."
Vandalism, on the other hand, is also rampant when foreclosed homes are vacant and sitting on the market for a long time.
In Lake County, Round Lake Beach has about 186 such vacant homes. Vandalism is common, from graffiti, removed copper piping, broken windows and stolen siding, said Margaret Sparr, inspection services director for Round Lake Beach.
The town contacts the last known owner of the property to remedy the problem, if possible, or the village resolves the issue and places a financial lien against the property, she said.
"We are proactive in keeping an eye on known vacant properties to try to stay ahead of any problems by having our property maintenance inspectors do weekly checks throughout the village for all violations," said Sparr. "We have a program in place for mowing and graffiti removal when needed. In most instances we have to deal with mortgage companies as the homeowner is rarely still involved in these properties."
Despite the damage some homes endure, they still could sell, said Marve Stockert, executive director of Lombard-based Illinois Association of Mortgage Professionals.
He recalled a $1.1 million home where the owners took all of the chandeliers and appliances, then rented it to some people, who stripped it down even further, including the cabinets.
"There was nothing left but the structure," Stockert said. "But it still sold for about $700,000."