In Florida, the foreclosure process takes 861 days, on average.
That means houses often sit in limbo for more than two years after the owner stops paying the mortgage. Maybe the homeowner is still living in the house. Maybe he's renting it out. Maybe squatters are living there, or maybe it's empty and falling down.
Marc Joseph's job is to find out.
Joseph is a real estate agent. On the day I tag along with him, he's representing a bank that had repossessed a concrete block home in Cape Coral, Fla.
"The assignment for this property came out auto-generated through the computer last night at, like, 2:01 in the morning," he said.
His assignment today is to figure out what condition the house is in and report back to the bank.
Outside, he surveys the place. No broken windows. No lights on. No cars in the driveway. He then takes a breath and moves toward the door. "There shouldn't be anyone living in there," says Joseph.
It's quiet. We stand at the doorstep for a couple of minutes. I wonder whether we should leave.
"Oh, we're absolutely going in today," Joseph says.
The front door is unlocked — this is common, apparently — and Joseph likes what he sees. No inhabitants. The place isn't trashed. No furniture. No one has poured concrete down the drain or ripped out the electrical system.
"When I see something like this, I know this will sell immediately," he says.
This is the new phase of the housing collapse. Homeowners stopped paying for their homes a long time ago. We are just now dealing with that fact.
"Sure it's an ugly business to go out and repo somebody's house," Joseph says. "But on the flip side of that, the beauty is [that] affordability is back. Now you can buy that house for $150,000, and you can actually come down and retire in Florida," says Joseph. "And as long as that sun is up there shining, people are going to want to come here."
That, of course, is exactly what real estate agents always say in Florida. But Joseph listed the house on Tamiami Court for close to $150,000 — less than half of what it was worth five years ago.
Three days later, the bank accepted an offer.