Thieves rob foreclosed homes

July 1, 2008 7:44:52 PM PDT
There is another unfortunate by product of the foreclosure crisis in the Bay Area. Empty homes are now prime targets for metal thieves. In a series of cases in Contra Costa County, deputies say the criminals are becoming increasingly bold and destructive in their hunt for copper.

There are homes that look relatively new with nice upgrades, including granite countertops, that is if you can look past the massive holes in the walls.

"As you can see the copper pipe in the walls, they take out too," said Realtor Bon Nguyen.

Nguyen is trying to sell this three-bedroom bank-owned home in North Richmond. His job got a lot tougher after a visit from some very destructive thieves.

"They just rip the walls out. Property doesn't really matter to them at all. They just know what they want. They come in, they take it and they leave," said Nguyen.

Nguyen's listing on Chesley drive is one of 11 homes in North Richmond where police say thieves have done virtually the same thing, since the first of the year. All of them are vacant, and in foreclosure.

"This is sort of a new phenomenon for us," said Sergeant Paul Beard.

Sergeant Beard is investigating the burglaries for the Contra Costa Sheriff Department.

"When our patrol folks go in there, we are finding complete sheet rock walls ripped down to the studs, in all areas where you'd find typical plumbing. In at least one case they found a water heater was also stolen and was attempted to be recycled at a recycle shop," said Sergeant Beard.

"In at least one case, a water heater was stolen and was attempted to be recycled at a local recycling shop," said Beard.

One house was broken into last week where a neighbor interrupted the thief, who left behind his tools and a duffel bag of freshly-cut copper.

Alicia Ortega is another realtor in North Richmond.

"What helps is the neighbors, when they watch the houses and call police," said Alicia Ortega, a realtor.

Besides copper, thieves often rip out sinks, brass fixtures, and whatever they can sell to scrap metal dealers.

In most of these cases, the thieves have done tens of thousands of dollars in damage to get to maybe a few hundred dollars in metals.

In this case, the asking price for the house on Chesley went from $250,000 before the burglary to $215,000 after, as is.


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