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Hidden dangers lurk in foreclosed houses

February 20, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
With more and more foreclosures coming on the market, there are plenty of opportunities for first-time homebuyers and investors to make a good buy. But unoccupied homes can be a dangerous place to visit.It's not so much that the house itself is dangerous, it's that an empty house is a temptation to criminals, and even in the best neighborhoods, bad things can happen. A former police officer shows you how to protect yourself.

Rafael Dagnesses is a broker for Quantum Realtors who specializes in foreclosure properties. Visiting a bank-owned property in Baldwin Hills, instead of going in the front door, Dagnesses went around the outside of the house first.

"What we're doing now is we're walking the perimeter and we're looking for any evidence of forced entry," said Dagnesses. "Any broken windows, things of that nature."

That's because Dagnesses, who is also a former LAPD officer, says unoccupied homes like the foreclosure are hotbeds for vagrants, gangs, and criminal activity. So visitors need to be aware.

"One of my agents failed to do that, went through the front door, and when he went in there were two gang members spray painting the walls. He had a gun pulled on him. It created a very dangerous situation," said Dagnesses.

Fortunately that incident ended safely.

Inside the house, Dagnesses pointed out the missing light fixtures, a sign of vandalism, and then in the kitchen, a boarded-up window. Evidence of an earlier break-in of the house.

"Our job is to secure the property as fast as possible and make sure that this doesn't happen again," said Dagnesses.

Another sign the place had some unsavory characters stop by was the lock on the gate that wasn't put there by the bank.

"People that want to break in, they'll re-secure the property so that we can't get in. And it just creates an obstacle for us to deal with," said Dagnesses.

With foreclosure properties, there are plenty of deals to be had, but don't put yourself in a potentially life-threatening situation to get one. And make sure your realtor goes in with their eyes open too.

"One of the first things that we do is communicate with the neighbors," said Dagnesses. "Give them our business cards, we give them a form, actually contact information. Letting them know that if there are issues, any concerns, any safety issues, strange things occurring, to please contact us direct."

If you're interested in a foreclosed property, remember to be aware, act with caution, and don't be afraid to call the police. In fact, have your cell phone ready when you enter a property.


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