The foreclosed house for sale on the up-and-coming street pined for fresh paint and other fixes, but the Hankins family saw its potential. Plus, at $36,000, the price was perfect for a young family trying to make ends meet in small-town Klamath Falls, Ore.There was a time when I would have been shocked that in America situations like this even occur. If it were an occasional or isolated event, like fatal car crashes at some local intersection that eventually results in authorities installing a traffic light, this situation might be tragic but not remarkable. But former meth labs in residential real estate is neither occasional nor isolated. It is a nation-wide phenomenon, well-known to both real estate and law enforcement authorities and recognized as a hazard in about half the states.
"We said, 'It needs a little bit of love, but it's got good bones,'" Jonathan Hankins recalled. "We just had no idea that those bones were poisonous."
Within days of moving in this past summer, Beth Hankins, an ER nurse, started experiencing breathing problems. Then Jonathan got migraine-like headaches and nosebleeds. By the third week, their 2-year-old son, Ezra, developed mouth sores. "He couldn't even drink water without being in pain," said Jonathan, 32.
Buying a foreclosed house from government-sponsored Freddie Mac meant the family was informed about being responsible for detecting hazards like lead paint and asbestos, but there was no warning from real estate agents or Freddie Mac about drug activity. Because it was being sold "as is," the couple decided to save their money and skip a traditional inspection, which would have noted superficial repairs but not the chemicals used to cook the highly addictive drug. "In the case of methamphetamine, it's an invisible toxin," Jonathan said.
But like so much of what politicians like to call the safety net, it is hidden from the very people who most need to know about it, those with limited resources climbing the ladder we call the American Dream, home ownership. Residential real estate, unlike products offered by national brands, has no public relations pressure to keep it clean and honest. Companies offering everything from toys to drugs to peanut butter and spinach are hypersensitive to brand image. But buying residential real estate is like buying a used car. It comes "as is" and the moment you take possession it's all yours, maintenance ticking bombs and all.
The DEA has a national listing of former meth labs, but I never knew it existed until I read this article. Something tells me that with the worst of the so-called toxic assets still on the books of financial institutions, including the Federal Reserve, incidentally (that's part of the famous Quantitative Easing no one seems to know anything about), this is another feature of the Great Real Estate Bubble continuing to ferment. We can expect this problem to grow, not diminish, as the backlog unwinds.
(Love that word unwinds. Sounds so sweet, like flying a kite, just letting the string go out as the wind carries the kite skyward. In reality it is more like what happens with fishing when the line and reel get tangled in what they call whiplash.)
[There is a video at the link if anyone is interested. I embedded it here but got poor results. One time it began playing spontaneously. Then it stopped altogether.]