Economics

The Only Problem Being a Real Estate Broker for Squatters Is That 6 Percent of Nothing Is Nothing

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If this guy had been doing this in the Bowery in the 1970s, there would be whole punk operas (granted, lasting only six minutes total) written about him: 

Max Rameau delivers his sales pitch like a pro. "All tile floor!" he says during a recent showing. "And the living room, wow! It has great blinds."

But in nearly every other respect, he is unlike any real estate agent you've ever met. He is unshaven, drives a beat-up car and wears grungy cut-off sweat pants. He also breaks into the homes he shows. And his clients don't have a dime for a down payment.

Rameau is an activist who has been executing a bailout plan of his own around Miami's empty streets: He is helping homeless people illegally move into foreclosed homes.

"We're matching homeless people with people-less homes," he said with a grin.

More here.

Hat tip: Michelle Shinghal

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  1. “I think everyone deserves a home,” said Rameau.”

    Barney Frank could not have said it better.

  2. I would imagine he will be arrested soon..

  3. Maybe he gets his commission in salvaged copper pipe?

  4. There goes the neighborhood.

  5. Did he remember to carry the nothing?

  6. Him and the Somali pirates. Taking care of business. God bless’m

  7. Well, if they live there openly and conspicuously for 7 years (I don’t know the rules in Florida, but that’s the number for most states), they aren’t breaking the law.

    This is exactly what adverse possession laws are for- turn disused property into used property.

  8. Why would I care what the floors or blinds looked like if I was homeless and the place had a roof?

  9. Ballon Maker,

    Homeless people have a right to triple crown molding, you insensitive person, you.

  10. I’m sticking with my theme, shoot’em.

  11. Arrrrrrrgh! Lowering the Earth’s temperature be we.

  12. Max Rameau delivers his sales pitch like a pro. “Hardly any feces on the floor!” he says during a recent showing. “And the ceiling, wow! Just like your overpass!”

  13. Ballon Maker,
    “Why would I care what the floors or blinds looked like if I was homeless and the place had a roof?”

    You wouldn’t care about a roof either: In Miami, you’d want A/C…

  14. They had this guy on some NPR show over the weekend (Weekend America?). They were basically fawning over someone who claimed that people have a ‘right to shelter’ that trumps all property rights.

    The basic gist was ‘we don’t care if someone owns this, and are trying to sell it, or do something else with it. It’s a house, and we’re going to move someone in. If they get tossed out, we’ll just move them back in.’ One woman gushed about how great ‘her new home’ was and how now that she has a home, she can get her 4 kids from her relative in Jamaica.

    I wonder what happens when a bank does sell one of these properties, and someone tries to move into the new house they’ve bought, only to find squatters helped by this guy living in the place. Does he help these folks move out then? Or is there a big argument with the police et al?

  15. I wonder what happens when a bank does sell one of these properties, and someone tries to move into the new house they’ve bought, only to find squatters helped by this guy living in the place. Does he help these folks move out then? Or is there a big argument with the police et al?

    Either way, I smell a new reality show coming this spring!

  16. I would imagine he will be arrested soon.

    And rightly so. I’m wondering why he hasn’t been arrested yet.

  17. R C Dean,

    Maybe they’re too busy hassling rappers over drug possession (scroll down) to bother with the mundane concerns of property theft and trespassing.

  18. I know, this will piss off all the randians here but… If sombody “bought” a home using OPM (other people’s money), then instantly forecloses by not paying mortgage are they any different from a homeless person breaking into the place and crashing there? I would say there are more deadbeat condo owners in Florida then there are squatters.

    If the “owner” (a loose term during the housing bubble) takes more than seven years (or whatever the length of time in Florida) to justify their claim to the property, let the bum have it. Hell, the bum may actually take over the abandoned flipping-remodeling projects.

  19. If sombody “bought” a home using OPM (other people’s money), then instantly forecloses by not paying mortgage are they any different from a homeless person breaking into the place and crashing there?

    Yes, because they are rightfully in possession until evicted by due process.

  20. “Yes, because they are rightfully in possession until evicted by due process.”

    Isn’t that a bit like saying somebody hasn’t committed a crime unless they are caught?

  21. Also, if somebody has no equity in an asset, philosophically speaking, do they actually own it?

  22. Isn’t that a bit like saying somebody hasn’t committed a crime unless they are caught?

    No. When a purchaser, even one who borrows 100% of the purchase price, takes possession, he does so rightfully, under a valid deed (albeit one encumbered by a mortgage).

    The question then becomes, when does their right to possess the property terminate (legally speaking)? Merely being in default on your loan doesn’t divest you of your property rights. The lender has to go through some form of legal foreclosure process. Until that process is concluded, you still have the right to occupy the property.

  23. Also, if somebody has no equity in an asset, philosophically speaking, do they actually own it?

    Sure. You can own something that has no market value, or something in which other people have rights (such as a lien).

    The fundamental indicia of ownership is the right to use something and to exclude others from using it. These indicia are not affected by the amount of equity you might have.

  24. But in nearly every other respect, he is unlike any real estate agent you’ve ever met. He is unshaven, drives a beat-up car and wears grungy cut-off sweat pants.

    The reporter obviously hasn’t met brokers in the “Real America”!

  25. Have any lenders complained yet? If not, what’s the problem? The guy’s taking unused property and making it useful as interim housing. It can be a while before the place gets sold, and in the meantime it’s better to have a regular resident watching the place than to subject it to vandalism & thievery which it would be if unoccupied.

  26. in the meantime it’s better to have a regular resident watching the place than to subject it to vandalism & thievery which it would be if unoccupied.

    This presumes the new, formerly homeless, residents aren’t prone to vandalism and thievery. I don’t think I’d make that bet.

  27. Whoa. Heavy stuff. First things.

    What is ownership?

    Does a deed or other instrument of legal ownership create the relationship between a person and a piece of property, or merely describe it?

    Can there be ownership without the law?

    Sure. You can own something that has no market value, or in which other people have rights, like a lien.

    The fundamental indicia of ownership is the right to use something and to exclude others from using it. These indicia are not affected by the amount of equity you might have.

    Doesn’t this observation refute the notion of a “regulatory taking?”

  28. I’m actually somewhat Randian, and I quite agree. There’s not that much defference between buying a house with no money down on an interest-only loan and then not making any payments and just squatting illegally.

    I’m also with you on the notion of rights for long-term squatters, under limited conditions. If the reason the squatters havn’t been evicted is because of government malfeasance, it doesn’t count. If it’s an absentee property owner who hasn’t been paying attention, that’s another story.

    But I doubt that very many of these homes are quite in that situation. The vast majority of them probably have recent owners and are currently on the market. The squatters are likely to destroy property values by damaging the homes, making it more difficult to sell them, and generally making the neighborhoods undesirable places to live.
    these areas are likely to become blighted and will eventually become crack houses, as squatters, having no legal rights, are not exactly in a position to prevent drug dealers from moving in whenever it is convenient.

  29. this will piss off all the randians here

    All three of them?

  30. Bob, what makes you think the squatters aren’t going to be the ones committing vandalism and theivery?

    The homes can’t have the electricity or water turned on without a legal owner, so the piping, fixtures, and appliances just become easy sources of cash for whomever is squatting.

  31. Er. I should say, the water, gas, and electricity can’t be turned on without the owner’s permission. Not that homeless people could afford to pay for heating and electricity anyway.

    Which makes the wiring, pipes, fixtures, A/C units, heaters, sinks, toilets, bathtub, and so forth, just so much stuff that can be stripped.

  32. “Isn’t that a bit like saying somebody hasn’t committed a crime unless they are caught?”

    More like: this is not a crime unless someone’s been wronged. As an agorist, I have no problems with squatters occupying an empty house and not damaging it until a definitive rightful owner is determined and starts making use of it (that includes putting it for sale).

    “Have any lenders complained yet? If not, what’s the problem? The guy’s taking unused property and making it useful as interim housing. It can be a while before the place gets sold, and in the meantime it’s better to have a regular resident watching the place than to subject it to vandalism & thievery which it would be if unoccupied.”

    There are a number of homes simply abandoned that are rotting around, right now. Being occupied could indeed help maintain and restore the value of those homes.

    But that can only happen correctly if the whole process is legitimized and recognized – otherwise there is zero incentive for squatters to maintain the home’s value, and opportunity costs will ensure only the squatters least respectful of others’ property will break and enter. I would think Hernando de Soto has very insightful guidance to offer in the domain of moving lots of people from extra-legality to recognized legitimacy.

    “What is ownership?

    Does a deed or other instrument of legal ownership create the relationship between a person and a piece of property, or merely describe it?

    Can there be ownership without the law?”

    Ownership is a factual consequence of actions: for every little change in the tangible world, that change can be traced to a chain of individuals who decided to act and made this change. The fact that you cut the tree makes you the owner of the timber, unless that tree had been planted and tended to by someone (which would have make it their propoerty instead). The law is just a rationalization that we put down in words on paper to make it clear that we understand (or not) this process. All the deeds, photos and title instruments are merely measurements of this reality, invented in order to prove the factuality of the ownership.

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