Why do houses get abandoned?

Everynow and then you will see an abandoned house. I have gone exploring in them in the past, and take pictures and stuff. I always wonder who lived there, and why did they leave the house?

Obviously the house did not HAVE to be abandoned…a properly maintained house can last hundreds of years. At what point does an appreciable investment become worthless and left behind? And sometimes it is not just the house but belongings as well.

A neighbor of mine in Washington DC lives next door to an abandoned house. He lives in a row house so the abandoned house actually shares a wall with his house.

Essentially the house was abandoned because the people who owned it died. They left it to their son, who is kind of a deadbeat. When the parents died, the son had already moved out and lives somewhere else. Like I said, he is a deadbeat so he just doesn’t take care of the property. It is boarded up, but homeless people and drug users get in there often.

Every once in a while the city tries to take control of the house, fine the guy or otherwise do something about the property. The son makes himself a pain in the ass and the court cases go on and on. The son has a ridiculous idea of what the house is worth and won’t sell it for a reasonable amount to someone who might fix it up. The son himself is now elderly and will probably be leaving it to his son who will lather rinse and repeat the whole mess.

When the cost of upkeep (including taxes) exceeds the value of actually living there.

Notice that abandoned houses are much more common in bad neighborhoods.

Abandoned houses in our region are becoming a problem in good neighborhoods. A lot of mortgage “flippers” around. They buy a house, get it appraised for a phony higher value, get some idiot to buy the house for very little down at the inflated price. Walks away with the difference. The idiot can’t make payments, they get foreclosed, etc. It takes a remarkably long time for everything to work thru. In the meantime the house gets vandalized etc. So it’s value is declining but the mortgage holder wants to make some money back, so it lists it for too high a price. After this happens to several houses in a neighborhood, then the process accelerates as the cheats can now get houses for a lot less money than they used to worth. Some neighborhoods become essentially ruined.

Why loan companies believe these appraisals when the house just sold for a lot less money is beyond me.

I’ve seen occasional news stories about insiders at the companies being in on the scam, taking a cut.

In my (northern) vicinity there are a few abandoned houses. They’ve been empty, it appears, for decades. I don’t have factual answers about these particular houses, but these are my guesses:

One is completely covered with raspberry bushes and weeds. It’s slowly rotting in the wet climate. I’m guessing someone bought the property as a summer home, or maybe a small farm. The owner moved away or died, and the property just sat until the house started to be overgrown and began to rot. That bit of property is not in a particularly good location (you’d have to drive to the beach, and there are railroad tracks across the street) and land has been cheap up there. I suspect the property won’t be sold and a new house won’t be built until the population expands quite a bit. (This is happening. I heard a year ago that Whatom County is the fastest growing county in the state.) But for now there are more desirable properties.

Another place looks like a front room or enclosed porch had been taken down. There’s a new house behind it, set back on the property. I’m guessing that the owners just never got round to tearing it down.

There’s a small delapidated garage off the freeway in Bellingham. Over the half-decade I’ve noticed it it has gotten progressively more rickety. Last year the roof fell in. Since it’s not a dwelling I think the owners were just using it for quasi-protection for stuff. Lawnmower and tools, maybe. Not worth repairing, and now that it’s fallen… I don’t know. Laziness? Expense?

So in my examples, I’m guessing it’s like smile4me2222 said. The financial incentive isn’t there to keep up the old structures or to tear them down and put up new ones.

I know of a couple of cases where older homes were owned by elderly people who were forced to go into nursing homes. They refused to sell their home, saying that they were "going to get better’ and move back home. Unfortunately they don’t get better but continue in a downward spiral, sometimes for years. The house sits empty, with no funds for maintence, and many times vandals or burgulars break in and trash the place. By the time the elderly owner has been persuaded to sell or has passed away, the house is in such bad shape that no one wants it.

I once went with a friend to his grandmother’s house. The house had really been beautiful at one time, but years of neglect had destroyed it. A roof can only leak for so long in so many places before it gives up and falls in.

It was really a waste.

When “Pops” Mercotan bought our farm property (adjacent to our main property) from a cousin, it came with the original farmhouse, which was over 125 years old at the time, and it hadn’t been lived in for at least a decade.

That’s because it was old, badly wired, poorly plumbed, with an ancient furnace, iffy septic system, and a lot of rot. The previous landlord didn’t want to fix the place, and noone would pay money to live in it anymore.

Pops contemplated donating the place to the local fire department, for them to burn down and practice on. But a neighbor’s son wanted to live there, and promised to ‘fix it up’.

He was the first of many tenants over the last 30 years who’s upgraded the place. Early tenants paid no rent at all, as long as they worked to improve things. Later ones paid rent, but could deduct the cost of equipment for improvements from the rent.

Now we’ve got a halfway decent 150 year old farmhouse. Septic’s still a little iffy, tho.

There’s one across the street from me which is finally getting fixed up but which was boarded up when I moved in and evidently was home to a squatter brothel a year before that! The lady who owned it died without a will, according to the lady across the street from it, and there was some sort of complication in finding an heir. Don’t know what happened, but it’s getting quite the makeover now.

Moral: don’t die intestate.

I hope this isn’t too much of a hijack, but what I’ve always wondered about are the houses that get abandoned while still under construction. There are a few around here, generally in rural areas, that are “complete” as far as I can tell (ie the house is built, a roof is on, there are doorframes and windowframes) that have never been completely finished.

I could understand it if one was building his/her own house, but these appear to be professionally done, and they’re not small. In at least one case, the brickwork looks to have cost a pretty penny, yet the house sits idle. It’s as if they got 95% done and then ran out of money, but is housebuilding really a pay-as-you-go affair?

If the developer is relying on the sale of newly constructed houses to provide the cash for finishing up partially constructed houses, any problems selling the new houses is going to kill their cash flow.

We had one down the street that had been burned pretty badly in an “electrical” fire*. It took the real estate boom for someone to fix it up. Now it’s a pretty nice house with a very nice family living there.
*“electrical fire” in my neighborhood used to be a euphemism for “bad meth batch”.

My grandmother’s neighbor died and his nice brick ~1960’s house in a good neighbourhood is still empty years later. He has two sons living in the area but neither of them seem interested in doing anything with the house.

AFAIK, the problem is that when a house is condemned, “uncondemning” it involves bringing it up to modern housing codes, not the codes applicable when the house was built, i.e., the house is no longer “grandfathered” into code compliance. This makes fixing up the house more than it’s worth.

On my parents block there is an abandoned house that was recently condemed by the city. As I understand it, the owner did not want his wife to get half the value of the building in the divorce, in the early 80s when the value was in the low 50k’s. However, the neighborhood has become EXTREMELY desireable in the meantime, with similar buildings now having values in the 3 millions+. So, I guess according to this spiteful bastard’s reasoning, it has become less and less desireable to sell it to an interested party as time has gone on. At the moment the building is burned out, and bricked up by the city (since it is a row house, it can’t be pulled down).

People would literally be falling all over themselves to refurbish this house at the least opportunity.

Yes, even in areas where real estate has soared, abandoned houses can be found. This puzzles me, because the city has an interested in getting taxes, the neighbors want to live next to a well-maintained house, not an eysore. It is true, that a wooden house can reach the point of being un-repairable. at that point, it will usually be torn down. there is an 18th century house on a main road near my parents. it is visibly falling apart-I can’t understand why it is being let go.

This is my situation only, but it may help. I work for a custom home builder and handle his financial stuff, and his contracts work on a pay-as-you-go. Sort of. Usually, a mortgage is involved, so the bank is handing out the dough. After the foundation is complete, he applies to the bank for his first 20% draw. They come out and verify that the foundation is actually done, and give him his money. Then when the framing is done, same thing. And so it goes. For a typical family, they will have sold their souls to the bank at this point, so for them it’s not pay as you go.

However, he is currently building a house for Mr. Stuff and me. We are paying cash, so things are slightly different. Same schedule, but we cut a personal check instead of going through the bank. Under these conditions, if we ran out of money, the house could indeed be abandoned. Barring unforeseen major events, it won’t be, but theoretically, it could happen.

Also, I don’t know if you got a look inside the houses that were nearly finished to your eye. After a house is framed, a great deal goes on inside that makes up a lot of the cost. For instance, was the drywall done? The electrical? The plumbing? On a $200K house, those three things can run you $33K or more. None of them are visible from the outside, so a significant part of the house can be undone while looking as if it’s nearly ready to move into, after some siding has been added. (I forgot to mention the kitchen cabinets, which by themselves can be $15K.) As always, YMMV.

Military base closings are a travesty. Here locally, Ft. Ord got closed. Hundreds & hundreds of decent homes were boarded up and basically abandoned to rot. The official word was that it would cost more to bring them up to code than they were worth. Geez, I’ve been in some of those homes while Ft. Ord was still open, and they’re nice. Hardwood floors, lots of windows, perfectly decent plumbing & electricity, etc. There are so many low income people & families that could have really benefited from all that perfectly fine housing. But no. All the greedy local landlords have to keep charging $1000 plus per month for small apartments, and keep all the struggling families who work in the local agriculture & tourist industries struggling along. Bastards.

Thanks, StuffLikeThatThere, that actually makes a heck of a lot of sense. I’ve never actually stopped to peek inside the house I had in mind, so I’m not sure if they did the interior, but your explanation certainly clears things up a great deal.

I could have written this post. We have one abandoned house in on our street and the story behind it is kind of similar. Nobody gets in it because it has a steel door and the neighbors watch it like a hawk trying to get the place condemned. It has been on our ANC Commissioner’s watch list for years but the owner keeps paying property taxes on it. Every so often, someone comes in a chops down the grass but otherwise it is abandoned.