Todd Lappin's photodiary of Modesto, CA: Foreclosureville


Todd Lappin recently visited Modesto, a central California city that was hit hard by the mortgage bubble. He posted his photos and comments on his blog, Telstar Logistics.

A city of more than 210,000 people located about 90 miles east of San Francisco, Modesto had the nation's third-highest home foreclosure rate during the third quarter of 2010 (just behind Las Vegas, Nevada and Cape Coral/Fort Meyers, Florida).

In practical terms, that means 1 in 36 homes in Modesto is in foreclosure, and as we discovered, the evidence of this is visible from street level.

"We're going to be near the top of the foreclosure list for a long time," Bob Johnson from Direct Appraisals in Modesto told us. "The majority of the foreclosures here are people who used home equity loans to buy cars and other things. Banks often try to help out with loan modifications, but that doesn't really help, so people just walk away. Bottom line is, people here say they just won't pay mortgages that are worth more than the value of the property."

Real Estate, Relocation, and Ruin: A Photo Tour of Foreclosureville, USA


  1. I remember some years back listening to Paul Harvey go on and on and on about how great and wonderful Modesto was. According to Harvey, it was a picture of what America was, is, and should be, and would be a shining beacon of wonderful Americana for ages. When I was younger I liked to hear Paul Harvey — something about his voice was soothing — but I always suspected he was deeply and desperately wrong about almost everything. And now, I know the rest of the story.

  2. Yikes, that green pool gives me nightmares.

    I was recently touring a few neighborhoods looking at homes here in phoenix (mesa specifically) and when looking over a rather nice home in north mesa I noticed to my dismay that I was being eaten alive by mosquitos. This is an unusual occurrence here in Arizona, especially so far away from any sort of water source or lake – then I looked over the rear fence walls.

    Literally green pools in every single empty neighboring yard.

    This is a hazard that needs to be dealt with before it becomes an issue of public health.

  3. It still surprises me that there’s no passive means of keeping swimming pools empty (like pulling a big cartoon plug/bung on the bottom). But i’ve been assured by ‘experts’ that they’re built on purpose with exactly no such feature.

  4. What is wrong with that community, that somebody (like maybe the the neighbors, the fire department, whoever is tasked with mosquito abatement in Modesto) didn’t make a call to drain that pool? Siphoning isn’t magic…

    Are there not even any local skaters, to handle this situation? Even squatters would take better care of the place…

    It’s disgraceful.

    1. You can’t just “drain a pool” and leave it empty in many locations. Ground water rises under the empty concrete shell and causes it to pop-up out of the ground. The empty shell rises and floats like a big ship. The only remedy is to then break up the concrete shell, remove it, and start over.

    2. It’s an abandoned home. One of many. Do you really think the people who left it care about alerting the mosquito brigade to come and drain their pool?

  5. The problem with drainig pools is , there is no wieght to keep the concrete in the ground. If water levels below rise just a little , the pool will actually rise a couple of feet above the patio hieght. Learned this the hard way ! Chlorine and acid will keep the mosquito larva down.

  6. You take out a car loan for $30K and the minute you drive the car off the lot, it’s worth less than your loan – yet you continue to pay on it, no? So why do people get so up in arms about paying on a $300K mortgage when their homes are now worth less than the mortgage?

    I know, this mess is mostly the bankers’ faults, and I don’t dispute that. And if the banks call the loan because the security no longer covers it, that’s not right either (see above argument).

    Everybody’s assumed for years that home values would always rise, never fall. They’ve treated their homes as investments rather than as places to live. Well, that’s how investing goes (unless you’re a big wall street firm bailed out by Uncle Sam) – sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t. If principal stability is your main objective, for goodness sake put your money in the bank.

    These homeowners signed notes for their mortgages. It seems to me that they have a legal and moral responsibility to pay them back. Maybe I’m just old fashioned about this.

    1. Moral? Quite possibly. Legal? The legal remedies available to the lender are spelled out in the mortgage documents and the foreclosure laws of the state in question. It’s my understanding that in CA, a “purchase money” mortgage is generally NOT recourse, but that a refinance mortgage generally IS full recourse. Which means that when you REFI, the bank no longer has to be satisifed with whatever they can sell the house for after they foreclose, but can take you to court and sue you for the rest of then money that they’ve leant to you. Just as banks are comming to realize that borrowers are changing their behavior, and not doing whatever they can to continue to pay their mortgages, borrowers may discover that banks start exercising their rights when borrowers with enough assets to be worth taking to court default.

      1. Correct. If the home is your principal residence (by IRS definition) and your mortgage (actually a trust deed, we don’t have mortgages in California) is the purchase instrument, you can’t be pursued beyond foreclosure. If you refinance, you lose your protection.

  7. I currently live in Modesto California, and it has always had issues with high unemployment, car theft, etc, but after the housing bubbble where lots of commuters from S.F. and flippers ran housing prices through the roof, times have been even rougher on most Modestans…

    We have a Gallo center for the Arts, Meg Whitman made a stop for her political campaign to hobnob with the rich, hundreds of people apply to each job opening, and most Modestans can’t make ends meet-the good thing is, if you were one of the smart ones who didn’t foreclose or go bankrupt, housing prices are very very low, but who has a job here to buy one?

  8. I, too, live in Modesto, CA, and was surprised but ultimately pleased to see our problems being discussed on a site with as wide a reach as Boing-Boing. So many other more fortunate places in the US are so bombarded with the message that the “recession” is over that any accurate descriptions of the conditions here and elsewhere in the Central Valley are usually dismissed as wild-eyed overstatement by anyone who hasn’t seen it first-hand.

    Another reason that so many of the foreclosures are or appear abandoned are the prevalence of “renter barons” in the area. For a while, it was a reasonably profitable business for Bay Area speculators and others to buy up a dozen houses or so in a neighborhood and rent them out to locals. However, when the bottom dropped out, many of these small businesses fell apart, or desperately sold off the homes to anyone who would buy them to cut their losses.

    This resulted in a very large number of renters suddenly being forced out of their homes through no fault of their own. To make matters worse, many of those families were already in poor shape (thats over 15% unemployment poor – at one point nearly 20%) due to major labor cuts in the area, like the closing of the famous Hershey Plant in Oakdale, CA. So not only did the “refinance gamblers” get screwed in the collapse, but many responsible families were displaced and forced to make terrible compromises just to keep a roof over their already humble dinner tables. When three generations of a family are living under one roof not out of closeness but grim necessity, and the primary breadwinners make minimum wage, the “recession” is a full on depression.

    Thats one of the main reasons that the Valley has so much anti-government sentiment right now – unfortunately, much of that has misguidedly lead the already conservative population to increasingly support the “Tea Party” movement’s violent and disturbingly irrational rhetoric. They are, indeed, mad as hell, and not going to take it anymore; unfortunately, that only results in a sad, directionless rage, full of bitter soundbites and misinformed half-truths.

    By the way, Guestimate Jones: There is no authority in the area dedicated to or responsible for mosquito abatement. The reason why? No budget money. Stanislaus County has a hard enough time fulfilling basic services due to the large tax losses; the roads in some places are comparable to the aftermath of minor earthquake sites, for example. Its so bad here that during certain years, we have even shut down our Animal Control services, despite this being a very rural county outside of Modesto. When you have a lost and frightened raccoon duking it out with your cat in your backyard at 2am, calling the cops results in a snickering reply of “well sorry sir, that’s not our problem.”

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