ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
The home mortgage crisis has hit California hard. The state has six of the nation's 10 metro areas with the most foreclosures, measured as the percentage of total households. The problem is a familiar one - subprime adjustable-rate mortgages that homeowners can no longer afford.
NPR's Richard Gonzales takes us to a San Francisco suburb with the foreclosure rate over the last year has tripled.
(Soundbite of auction)
Unidentified Man: Everybody ought to be in here. I don't want anybody…
RICHARD GONZALES: In a hotel ballroom in Concord, California, it's standing room only as more than 80 foreclosed homes are up for auction.
The properties are sold as is and a bid winner has to put down five percent of the property price and be able to close within a month.
Mr. DAVE WEBB (Principal, Hudson & Marshall): And so, everybody wins in this deal.
GONZALES: These auctions are becoming more and more common says Dave Webb. He's with Hudson & Marshall, a firm that specializes in foreclosure auctions around the country. And Webb says this is one of five in recent days in this part of California.
Mr. WEBB: So, the banks know that they're going to move a lot of property and all these would close within 30 days. And the buyers know that when they go home, they've got them a good price on a property.
GONZALES: Just a year ago, this was part of California's real-state boom; now it has gone bust, and homeowners are bailing out at a record pace.
Ms. SUE RAMSDELL (Realtor, Security Pacific Real Estate): They're everywhere - all over. It's sad because the neighborhoods don't like to see it, we don't like to see our neighbors having problems.
GONZALES: In a nearby city of Antioch, realtor Sue Ramsdell keeps close track of this trend. Antioch has seen explosive growth in recent years, homebuyers fled San Francisco and Oakland looking for upscale suburban living with the help of subprime loans.
Ms. RAMSDELL: Just the Antioch-Brentwood-Oakley Tri-City area, we have over 2,000 listings for sale on the market, which is huge.
GONZALES: Huge, because not long ago, says Ramsdell, 100 homes on the market was considered big. Now, she says, one in three homes for sale will be sold at a loss or is in foreclosure.
Ms. RAMSDELL: You want high end, low end, medium — it doesn't matter. Go up make a left. Go up golf course, make a left or go right, it doesn't matter. You're going to see them everywhere. You can spot them, just look for the brown grass.
GONZALES: What's less apparent is the green water, the kind you find in backyard swimming pools that have been abandoned by homeowners. Deborah Bass shows us one of them.
Ms. DEBORAH BASS (Public Affairs Manager, Contra Costa Mosquito & Vector Control District): Well, we see a pool that is bright green; there seemingly are probably tens of thousands of mosquitoes in this pool. They're just wiggling all around.
GONZALES: Bass is with the County Mosquito Control Program. She worries that the abandoned pools will lead to the spread of West Nile virus.
Ms. BASS: Well, we're seeing a lot of pools abandoned like this because of the foreclosure rate. A lot of people are worried about the finances, of course, and are probably not worried about what's going on in their backyard.
GONZALES: Realtors say people unable to pay their mortgages often withdraw, feeling isolated and humiliated. Retired machinist Robert Harrell of Richmond, California, had to overcome those feelings when he nearly defaulted on an adjustable-rate mortgage. Instead, he went straight to a housing counselor.
Mr. ROBERT HARRELL (Retired machinist, Richmond, California): Well, my word of advice to everybody is to just don't be ashamed. Come out and do what's necessary to keep your house.
GONZALES: That's why realtors and housing counselors advice homeowners facing default to contact their lender early and try to work out a new payment schedule. Richard Gonzales, NPR News, San Francisco.
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