New home nightmare

February 7, 2008 8:58:18 PM PST
Families who live in a new development in South Jersey are at wits end. The developer was forced to abandon the project before it was completed, leaving them living in a neighborhood that is a far cry from what they had envisioned.

Real estate experts say with the continuing housing crisis, more situations like this one could pop up across the country.

Seapine Estates in Egg Harbor Township features piles of dirt, debris and disappointment.

"It's very sad. We go through other neighborhoods. We feel like we should have bought in those neighborhoods. Why did we buy here?" said Denise Urtubey.

Homeowners bought into Seapine with promises of a stylish community of 247 homes, stately streets with landscaping and child-friendly sidewalks.

Lorene Dekarski was one of the first to move in about three years ago.

"We were hoping there would be a lot of children for my son to play with," said Dekarski.

Instead Dekarski and the approximately 25 other families here are surrounded by near silence, empty foundations and rotting wood shells

"My son wants to play in the abandoned houses. He doesn't understand the safety of it," said Dekarski.

People from other neighborhoods are turning the development into their own private dump.

"If you drive back there you see tubs and sinks," said Kevin Urtubey.

Seapine is a casualty of America's housing market meltdown.

The developer, Brad Elliott of Elliott Building Group, says, "While we were hopeful we would be able to reorganize under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, the recent credit crunch and continued deterioration of the housing market forced the company into a straight liquidation."

"It seemed like they knew it was happening. No one would show up for weeks, and then someone would show up. So it seemed like they knew they were going downhill," said Urtubey.

"In August of 2007, we really got a jolt. They started pulling out the trailers. Nobody was working at the model homes anymore," said Dekarski.

Real estate experts warn now more than ever do your homework before buying. They say the longer a developer's track record, the better.

"There are no hard and fast rules, but typically they're pretty sophisticated players and can anticipate these kinds of downturns and appropriately protect themselves from them," said Douglas Carney of Drexel University.

As far as Seapine Estates?

"What's most likely to happen is over time another developer will be attracted to the project and the project will probably be finished anyway," said Carney.

Action News has learned that Bank of America took ownership of 195 Seapine lots on Thursday. The bank plans to sell them as a package deal to a developer, but the bank could not provide a timeline.

This situation is heartbreaking for the developer, too.

"I have lost my livelihood and have had to come to terms with the loss of a vibrant, award-winning home building company that my colleagues and I spent 14 years building," said Elliott.