Fannie Mae is taking another step to keep criminals out of homes going through the foreclosure process. It is expanding its use of clear plastic material instead of plywood to board up vacant homes. This could be useful to you if you buy a foreclosure or have a vacant home.
The use of “clear boarding” helps fight blight and crime in areas with a lot of vacant homes. Instead of plywood, windows and doors are boarded up with unbreakable polycarbonate material that is more visually appealing.
It also makes it less likely that squatters will occupy a home unnoticed. And, it makes it safer for emergency responders to know what they may find inside a home if they need to enter the home quickly.
Fannie Mae has been using polycarbonate material since 2014 — but only on foreclosed homes. To date, it’s been installed on about 4,000 Fannie Mae properties.
The new development adds pre-foreclosures to the list starting this month, and requires that “all” Fannie Mae properties are secured with clear boarding. Mortgage servicing firms will have 90 days to implement the new policy on new inventory.
A company called SecureView has been supplying Fannie Mae with the polycarbonate material. Founder Robert Klein believes it will help keep homes in better shape and get them get them back on the market more quickly. And he hopes it’s something that will be adopted industry-wide.
Plywood has been the go-to material for decades, but it’s also believed to attract squatters, vandals, and criminal activity because they can hide behind boarded up windows and doors. Klein says: “Eighty percent of the issues that the mortgage serving industry has with securing vacant properties will be resolved when the industry moves toward polycarbonate clear boarding.”
And he told the Chicago Sun Times that the real beauty of this kind of boarding material is that you “cannot tell the property is vacant.” He says: “The moment you put plywood on a property, you’re announcing to the world that the property is vacant.” And he says: “Anything can happen on the property” including drugs, prostitution, and murder.
Chicago is one municipality that allows the use of clear boarding materials. Klein says he’s already used clear-boarding products on 10 to 12,000 sites in Chicago and a total of 15,000 across the country.
The main drawback: Polycarbonate material is much more expensive than plywood. For Lauderdale’s Sun Sentinel writes that a 4-by-8-foot piece of plastic sheeting costs about $160 dollars compared to $30 for a piece of plywood the same size. So that’s a deterrent for some cities.
But Klein says you typically re-board a home with plywood three times, due to vandalism, so that triples the original cost for the plywood and the labor. There’s also the cost of the vandalism.
Chicago Alderman Ray Lopez says that clear boarding is not a panacea. He told the Sun Times: “You can still tell a foreclosed home, whether it’s plywood or plastic. You can see that a mile away.”
Alderman Lopez says it’s not the plywood that devalues the home, but the foreclosed home itself. He says the biggest risk is to have a vacant home that’s not secured in any way. He acknowledges that clear boarding is a good product however, and that it can be beneficial.
For people who live near a boarded up home, it can certainly improve the look of the neighborhood. And if it keeps out the squatters, vandals, and criminals, it could make neighbors feel safer.
The Sentinel writes that Fort Lauderdale is the only city in South Florida that’s using the material. It says other cities using it include Chicago, Phoenix, Detroit, and Durham, North Carolina. It’s not yet in widespread use, but with Fannie Mae expanding its use of clear boarding nationwide, it could help lower costs for individual investors eventually.