After years of telling people I was bullish on the future of Oak Park, last year I took the plunge. I made an offer on a run-down, 110-year-old bungalow south of Broadway and dreamed of returning the home to its former glory.
That never happened. The story of why it didn’t provides a little glimpse into one reason it’s taken so long for the renaissance underway in one of Sacramento’s oldest neighborhoods to fully take root.
The house I tried to buy was on Seventh Avenue, in an area that law enforcement still considers a haven for drug dealing, illegal weapons and other criminal activity. The Hell’s Angels motorcycle club has its Sacramento headquarters across an alley from the back fence.
Like many houses in Oak Park, the one I was trying to buy was in foreclosure, long ago abandoned by the former owners and now in the hands of Fannie Mae, the giant institution that uses a government backstop to guarantee millions of American mortgages.
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And like many Oak Park houses, this one had problems. The biggest was a tab for tens of thousands of dollars in fines and surcharges levied by the city for unpermitted work and conditions that made the house an “unsafe building.”
Undeterred, I made an offer. Fannie Mae accepted and we opened escrow in July. It promised to pay those fines to clear the title before I took the keys, and the deal was scheduled to close on Aug. 21.
But at the last minute, Fannie asked for a short delay so the right people at the company could approve paying the fines. I gave them a month, but they didn’t get it done. They asked for another extension at the end of September, and again in October, November and December.
Around Christmas, Fannie Mae told the title company that the bank now believed a third party – a firm Fannie Mae had hired to manage the property – should pay the fines. I signed another extension. All this time, I was interviewing contractors and working on plans. A nice man from the city building department kept assuring me that once I owned the property, he’d work with me to address the code violations so I could resolve the case and proceed with the renovation. The city even suspended the monthly fines to try to make it easier for the parties to clear the title.
But Fannie Mae, from its perch 3,000 miles away in Washington, D.C., was in no hurry. I gave them another extension in January, but when they asked for one more in February, I finally pulled the plug. Eight months in escrow with no end in sight was long enough.
I decided to buy a house in midtown instead. In less than one month, I found my house, completed escrow and moved in. I still think Oak Park would be a great place to live, and I love the energy that’s coming from that diverse, rebounding community. But it would be rebounding a lot more quickly were it not for a glut of foreclosures, books filled with code enforcement violations and the inability of the absentee owners to deal with them.
Daniel Weintraub is editor of the California Health Report.