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‘Shame’ real estate website targets banks handling stalled foreclosures

A newly launched website has some features of a conventional real estate website, but with a twist.

There are photos of homes and listings of their square footage and estimated values. But the descriptions take to task banks the site claims drag out the foreclosure process – sometimes for years – and prevent the properties from going back on the market.

The new website, shamerealestate.com, is the latest push by Assemblyman Michael Kearns, D-Buffalo, and the Western New York Law Center to draw attention to incomplete foreclosures. Kearns said stalled foreclosures create eyesores, damage neighbors’ property values, and spawn other problems.

Kearns’ “shame” campaign calling for banks to act is not new, but he hopes the website will bring greater visibility to the properties and the problem. In the past, Kearns and his backers have planted campaign-style signs on the front lawns of homes mired in foreclosures, naming the banks they hold responsible.

The website aims to bring a wider audience to the problem than the people who happen to pass by a particular home, he said. “We’ve decided to take the shame campaign virtual.”

The WNY Law Center is researching properties stuck in the process. Neighbors of properties that have gone vacant complain of problems like rats, break-ins, or, in one case, a drug overdose, said Kate Lockhart, a paralegal with the WNY Law Center. “It becomes a real danger, not just a nuisance to a neighborhood, and it can happen anywhere,” she said. Lockhart said the problem afflicts urban, suburban and rural areas.

Kearns said the problem can also burden taxpayers. He cited the example of a South Buffalo home with an incomplete foreclosure that caught fire. The city carried out an emergency demolition at public expense, he said.

Kearns and Lockhart said they hope the campaign will, at a minimum, help neighbors find a contact person at a bank whom they can reach out to when a vacant home has overgrown grass, sidewalks not shoveled, or a leaking roof. But they also hope the campaign will spur banks to finish foreclosures, enabling new owners to take over neglected properties.

Kearns cited Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase as two lenders who have become more responsive on the issue.

The New York Bankers Association agrees that drawn-out foreclosures in New York state are a problem, but says it stems from the state’s lengthy process.

“The banks do not control this issue,” said Michael Smith, president and CEO of the association. “They do not own the property. They are the lender. They are a party to this foreclosure process.”

The bankers’ association supports state legislation that would accelerate foreclosures for abandoned homes, Smith said.

“We recognize the problem, totally,” he said. “We recognize the blight that occurs in abandoned property and its effects on the community.”

Smith said lenders hope to “work out an agreement in this current session of the Legislature that would go directly to the heart of the abandoned property issue.”

The average foreclosure in the state takes about three years, which Smith said is frustrating to the banks. “It’s very time-consuming. They’re subject to the reputational risk, to the criticism.”

email: mglynn@buffnews.com