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Neighbors see red over decline of ‘The Pink Lady’

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A historic house in one of downtown Fredericksburg’s poshest neighborhoods has fallen into disrepair after being vacant for three years.

Overgrown weeds, peeling paint and rotting wood have become commonplace at an 1895 home at 201 Caroline St. known as “The Pink Lady” because of its exterior color.

Next-door neighbor Charles G. McDaniel has led an effort to force the home to be cleaned up or sold, but he’s been unable to make much progress.

That’s due in large part to the fact that no single individual or institution really owns “The Pink Lady.” It was bundled with numerous other homes into a mortgage-backed security that’s owned by many investors.

Deutsche Bank is the trustee for the mortgage-backed security, but the bank doesn’t own the property. Texas-based Homeward Residential, as the mortgage servicer, is responsible for maintaining and ultimately selling the property.

McDaniel has gotten the run-around when he’s tried calling either of the large organizations, both of which are dealing with many foreclosed properties throughout the country.

He’s offered to buy it but has been told it’s not available. He’s filed a complaint with the city of Fredericksburg, but local officials aren’t allowed to do much beyond cutting the grass and picking up trash unless the house is in danger of falling down.

“It’s been sitting there deteriorating for three years,” McDaniel said. “I’m so frustrated and mad.”

Though “The Pink Lady” stands out because of its location amid some of the city’s grandest homes, it’s far from the only property in limbo following a historic housing boom and bust.

Throughout the region people have complained about vacant and foreclosed homes deteriorating and hurting surrounding property values. In many cases it’s next to impossible to get anyone on the phone from the huge institutions that own the properties, even when there are people interested in buying them.

John Walsh knows about this as well as anyone. As Fredericksburg’s property maintenance code official, he responds to complaints about deteriorating homes and frequently drives around the city to assess the condition of properties himself.

Fredericksburg’s local nuisance ordinance allows Walsh to direct public works crews to cut the grass on vacant properties, an endeavor that takes time and resources. But his hands are tied for most structural repairs unless the home represents a public risk.

For example at “The Pink Lady” the columns holding up the back porches overlooking the Rappahannock River appear to be crumbling. But Walsh said the damage is cosmetic rather than structural, so there’s little the city can do.

When Walsh gets a complaint about a foreclosed property, he typically sends a letter to the bank that owns it asking it to clean it up. Usually he hears nothing back and directs city crews to do the work. Then the city places a lien against the property for the costs incurred doing the work.

He said in many cases it appears banks don’t want to sell the homes, many of which have mortgage balances that far exceed their market value, in a still-struggling market. He would like to see banks be required to sell the properties within a year of foreclosure.

The possible resale of “The Pink Lady” appears to be complicated by litigation. Ed Whelan III, who lived in the house between 2005 and 2009 and was its last occupant, believes the litigation involves a dispute between two lenders that were involved with the property before he bought it.

And so “The Pink Lady,” a nearly 5,000-square-foot home that just seven years ago sold for $1.05 million, sits vacant, the elements slowly peeling off its namesake color. A crew did cut the grass Thursday, but it remains unclear when someone will have a chance to buy the property and restore it to its past grandeur.

“A lot of people want to save it,” McDaniel said.

Bill Freehling: 540/374-5405