real estate:

Curb appeal: This plywood alternative might better deter vacant-home break-ins

Safeguard Properties demonstrates the SecureView window product to Las Vegas police and firefighters Thursday, May 5, 2016, at a former squatter house along Shiloah Drive.

At first glance, the small, decades-old house off East Charleston Boulevard looks worn-down, in need of a paint job and landscaping at the very least.

But inside, the Las Vegas home shows what it’s become: a trashed gathering spot for squatters, vagrants and junkies.

Shopping carts are scattered about, floors are covered with trash, mattresses are stacked on each other, and walls and ceilings are torn apart.

“Ain’t (expletive) back there, stay out,” says a message scrawled on a wall. “Violent tweekers on guard.”

The house has been a problem for years, and it’s not the only abandoned, beat-up property in Las Vegas. Now, in an effort to prevent this sort of blight, City Hall is testing whether boarding windows with an alternative to plywood will keep people from breaking into vacant houses again and again.

SecureView Window Product

Anthony Krieg with the City of Las Vegas Code Enforcement takes a swing at a SecureView window product being demonstrated by Safeguard Properties to Las Vegas police and fire fighters at a former squatter house along Shiloah Drive on Thursday, May 5, 2016. Launch slideshow »

Safeguard Properties founder Robert Klein, whose Ohio-based company inspects homes for lenders, held a news conference Thursday at 106 Shiloah Drive and showcased his SecureView product to Metro Police officers, Las Vegas firefighters, code-enforcement officers, reporters and others.

Installed on the abandoned, 1,000-square-foot home as part of a city pilot program, SecureView is a sheet plastic made of polycarbonate. According to Klein, it’s “unbreakable” and lets first-responders see what’s occurring inside a house before entering.

He says plywood pushes down property values and sparks a rise in vandalism. SecureView, however, looks like a window and, city officials say, doesn’t mark a house as being abandoned, like plywood does.

Klein said he’s boarded “millions of properties over the past 25 years,” and he used plywood because it was “the only thing we had.”

“Plywood is a cancer,” he said.

Las Vegas planning director Tom Perrigo said city officials would evaluate the product, though he did not say how or for how long. They plan to install it on homes that are prone to break-ins and then expand the roll-out.

The city boards up about 100 homes per year, he said, and about 10 to 20 percent of them are “constantly” broken into.

“Hopefully it will stop some of the recidivism we’re seeing with properties,” code enforcement supervisor Vicki Ozuna said.

Ozuna said the sheets installed on the one-story house on Shiloah — near Charleston and U.S. 95 — were given to the city for free by Klein’s company. But it was unclear Thursday how much the product would cost if installed on others.

Klein said SecureView is double the price of plywood, though he did not provide dollar amounts. Ozuna said it usually costs $1,200 to $2,000 to clean a house and board it with plywood; she said she didn’t know the cost of using SecureView but indicated that people have said it’s about four times as much.

The business of boarding up houses seems to be growing in Las Vegas. About five years ago, city officials normally cleaned and secured homes just 35 times per year, Ozuna said.

Despite its improved housing market and economy, the Las Vegas Valley still is littered with thousands of empty homes — about 13,360, according to foreclosure-tracking firm RealtyTrac.

Metro Police, for instance, say they received at least 4,458 squatter-related service calls in Las Vegas and unincorporated Clark County last year. That’s up 24 percent from 2014, 69 percent from 2013 and 169 percent from 2012.

Many of the vacant homes are tied to the recession, which pummeled Las Vegas harder than almost every metro area. Residents valleywide lost their homes to lenders amid sweeping job cuts, and the majority of borrowers were left underwater due to plunging home values.

Such problems have eased considerably the past few years, but Las Vegas still has one of the highest rates of foreclosures and underwater borrowers in the country among large metro areas.

Although “everybody believes the foreclosure crisis is over,” there still is a “very large inventory” of homes whose owners have “walked away” and whose lenders show no interest in selling, Ozuna said.

She could not confirm how long the house on Shiloah has been abandoned but said it’s been boarded up at least twice. A homeless camp was in the backyard at one point, and she said a contractor who was recently sent to the property found needles on the ground.

And even though it’s been ripped apart, it’s not the worst-looking abandoned house in town.

“Actually, it’s kind of clean compared to most of them,” Ozuna said.

Built in 1956, the one-bathroom, two-bedroom home sold in 2004 ­— during the real estate bubble — for $200,000, county records show. But problems started mounting by 2012, after the market crashed. Liens were filed for unpaid garbage bills, and city officials claimed a range of code violations.

Among other things, they ordered the owner to board up the “entire structure” due to a “history of vandalism”; fix a damaged block wall; remove a “brown Chevy pickup”; and haul away the garbage from the property, including “loose trash, broken concrete, dumped debris (and) dead vegetation,” according to filings with the Clark County Recorder’s Office.

A notice of default was filed against the house in September 2014, alleging the owner owed about $47,900. A month later, she sold the house for $35,074, county records show — some 82 percent below what she paid a decade earlier.

The problems, however, didn’t stop. The city filed a nuisance notice against the house in summer 2015 and another one last month, alleging several code violations. Among other things, the owners were told to “not allow homeless individuals to occupy the premises” and to remove graffiti, garbage, dead vegetation and a “junk vehicle,” a gold Chevy Cavalier.

Since May 1, 2014, Metro Police have had five calls for service at the property, including a narcotics arrest and a dead body, said Officer Jesse Roybal, a spokesman.

A neighbor says a woman overdosed there. Roybal says a woman’s body was found there in March, but at the time, nothing suspicious was reported about the death.

In a phone interview Thursday, owner Dante Pugliese said he’s tried to arrange a short sale, but the banks are “not responding” and he’s “pretty much walking away” from the home.

Pugliese said he’s cleaned the place five or six times, but added there are a “lot of code violations involved.”

“At this point, I’m probably just at the end of my rope on it,” he said.

Real Estate