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Buyer beware

Published: Tue, February 28, 2012 @ 12:00 a.m.

Calif. man finds home not so sweet

By Ashley Luthern



  Buyer Beware

A California man got a surprise after buying a house in Youngstown.

A California man got a surprise after buying a house in Youngstown.


Rik Blake of Hermosa Beach, Calif., was given photos of this house in the 400 block of Lora Avenue in December. He liked what he saw, purchased the house while in California and arrived in Youngstown on Thursday. The house’s exterior looked similar to the photos, but the interior was drastically worse — no heat, electric or water — than what was depicted in those photos.

Rik Blake thought his new house on the city’s North Side was “move-in ready.”

An ad online at Craigslist.org Dec. 16 said: “Property needs some repairs, so get your paint brush, mop and gardening tools and bring back the old glory days of this fine home.”

But when Blake pulled up at his house in the 400 block of Lora Avenue on Thursday, he was shocked. The house was stripped, windows shattered and an orange 8-shape was spray-painted on the door, meaning the utilities had been disconnected.

Instead of a fixer-upper home, Blake was staring at blight. His house is one of 3,236 vacant structures in the city.

“I was given paint, a sink and faucet handles, but all the plumbing’s gone. It does me no good whatsoever. I was under the impression it had a two-car garage — and absolutely it does — but it’s on top of itself. It’s a bunch of wood, part of my fireplace right now,” Blake said.

Blake, 49, of Hermosa Beach, Calif., wanted to make a new start. He was a motorcycle salesman and inventor, creating several registered businesses for his products, but after a pelvis-shattering injury and a renter’s lawsuit, he decided to take his share of a settlement and buy a house.

His lawsuit settlement was $15,000. He considered a $10,000 house in Missouri, but the real-estate listing said it was “gutted.” He agreed to pay $13,000 to the Lora Avenue home’s owner, California-based Dream Home Investment LLC, figuring the extra $3,000 was worth it because the house was move-in ready.

He provided The Vindicator a copy of his paperwork, including a receipt documenting his initial $8,000 payment with an agreement to pay the remaining $5,000 over the next year.

Dream Home Investment LLC posted ads on Craigslist and emailed Blake pictures showing the home in disrepair but with basic structures intact, such as the bathroom.

There’s almost nothing left in the bathroom now, save a dismantled toilet.

Before Blake packed his brown van with his possessions, including his two dogs, Reverend and Deacon, he purchased his Youngstown property while in his home state.

He went to Dream Home Investment LLC, which lists an address on Aetna Street in Valley Glen, Calif. Valley Glen is part of the city of Los Angeles.

“It was somebody’s house,” he said of the business’s office.

Dream Home purchased the Lora Avenue house in October 2009 through a quit-claim deed for $4,100. In 2008, Wells Fargo had purchased the house for $11,000 during a sheriff sale in the foreclosure process. The Mahoning County auditor lists the total market value of the property as $6,960.

The Vindicator tried several phone numbers listed online for businesses that appeared to be Dream Home Investment and a contact number provided on the Craigslist ad, but did not hear back.

Dream Home also owns two other Mahoning County properties, 813 Boston Ave. and 1327 Republic Ave., both in the city. Blake had an email from a Dream Home employee, saying the asking price of $12,995 for the Lora Avenue property; $59,999 for the Republic Avenue property; and $6,995 for the Boston Avenue property.

Buyer beware

Blake’s situation is not unheard of, said Maureen O’Neil Farris, neighborhood improvement coordinator who is contracted by the city to work with property-maintenance enforcement.

“This really is a cautionary tale for any buyer who would get involved in such a large purchase without doing their due diligence and getting the service of a professional, whether it be a lawyer or real-estate agent, particularly when you’re out-of-state like that,” she said.

Still, Farris said she empathizes with Blake.

“My heart goes out to a person who’s in that situation because when they see a lower price for the home, they think there’s no way to lose, but what they’re adopting in some cases is a liability,” she said.

Mahoning County Treasurer Daniel Yemma said his office does field calls from out-of-state residents looking to buy property in the county and inquiring about taxes on them.

“Compared to many other places in the country, such as inflated markets in California, for example, or even Charlotte or Phoenix, where they were experiencing growth ... [the price] looks unbelievable. They think, ‘How can you purchase real estate that cheap?’ and they’re not familiar with the market,” Yemma said.

He said his office encourages those types of callers to have an inspection done of the house.

Farris said some people may have some legal recourse if the seller did not notify them of specific conditions of the property, but that could be mitigated if it was sold “as-is,” such as Blake’s case. House buyers should look for a property disclosure form, which wasn’t filled out in Blake’s case because the owners never lived in the property.

“The responsibility is on the buyer to protect themselves,” Farris said.

That can be difficult with vacant houses because many times out-of-state owners are involved.

John D. Bralich, senior GIS (geographic information system) manager at the Center for Urban and Regional Studies at Youngstown State University, said 22.4 percent of the vacant structures identified in a 2010 vacancy survey by the Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative have out-of-state owners — and of those, 30.5 percent are from California. (The MVOC is a grass-roots community organizing initiative dedicated to improving the quality of life in urban neighborhoods in the Youngstown and Warren region.)

Youngstown has demolished more than 2,500 vacant houses in the past six years, but more than 3,000 remain, according MVOC.

Right now, the easiest way to check the state of vacant property in Mahoning and Trumbull counties is by using the Regional Property Information System database released in 2010 by YSU’s Center for Urban and Regional Studies, an effort led by Bralich.

The information was provided by MVOC. YSU does have a disclaimer on the website and encourages individuals using the database to verify the information with public sources.

The vacant properties were rated on a letter system, A to F, with A representing a move-in ready residential structure and an F representing a property that presents an immediate liability to a neighborhood and should be demolished, said Phil Kidd, a community organizer who has worked on housing problems with MVOC.

City homes are for sale on eBay, and bids for property at 372 East Florida Ave. and 37 Linden Ave. are under way. A check of the RPIS database shows the Florida Avenue property listed as being occupied in 2010, but the Linden Avenue property was rated an F.

Blake’s home on Lora Avenue is rated D, meaning it is in deteriorated condition with broken or missing windows and missing brick and siding, among other problems.

Making progress

Blake wants to fix the house “a room at a time” but knows it will be a challenge.

“I expected to move in and to have plenty of time to fix it up. I expected to have water and electricity. You have to go through so many inspectors, and I had no idea,” Blake said.

He signed the agreement with Dream Home on Dec. 27, 2011, but didn’t plan to move until the summer. His move was expedited when he saw an eBay classified listing Jan. 28 for a Youngstown house that looked identical to the one he purchased on Lora Avenue.

Worried that the house would be sold from under him, Blake packed up and drove to Ohio.

He spent most of his money during the move, paying for food, lodging and fuel. He said that one night when he stopped at a Missouri motel, his van was broken into and his prescription drugs, cash and other valuables were taken.

The night he arrived in Youngstown, Thursday, Blake slept in his van with his two dogs. He didn’t want to abandon them to spend a night at a shelter. On Friday, he cleaned the fireplace and cleared the flue so he has a heat source.

His neighbors across the street, Jeffrey and Elyce King, said it’s not the first time someone bought that house online.

“A family bought it a couple years ago, and the wife took one look at it and started crying,” Jeffrey said. “They didn’t even really get out of the car.”

Jeffrey admitted he called the police about Blake, thinking he was a scrapper, but after meeting Blake and seeing his paperwork, he and his wife have tried to help the newcomer as best they can.

“It’s such a sad situation,” Elyce said.

Blake, an Army veteran who says he made it through only the sixth grade, is quickly running out of money but already has made progress on the house.

He’s secured the doors, added a mailbox, swept and put plastic tarps in the doorways and windows. His belongings are tidy, and his skateboards decorate the living room where he eats. He sleeps in the boarded up entranceway.

He admits he’ll need help — “I could use some more blankets,” he said — but he isn’t deterred.

He said his neighbors have warned about safety concerns, not unfounded as the street was the scene of a 2010 murder and 2008 stabbing. The Kings were even robbed at gunpoint last year.

Still, Blake said he feels “blessed” to own a house and to have his neighbors watching out for him, including one at the corner of Lora and Belmont avenues who gave him free firewood.

“I got so excited to come here. I mean, the people here are so cool. I’ve met so many neighbors,” he said.


1NilesOhio(995 comments)posted 4 years, 4 months ago

TheDrone - I agree completely with you. And to think that you're really going to find a "move-in ready" house for under $15k anywhere in the US? Seriously?

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2peggygurney(408 comments)posted 4 years, 4 months ago

This man has such a good attitude, and despite everything that's happened, he feels blessed!

I intend to do everything I can to help him. He served this country through the Army. Now we can darn well help him.

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3gingerspice(142 comments)posted 4 years, 4 months ago

ANYTHING listed on Craigs List, buyers should BEWARE!!!! As with all things, this media(craigs list) started out as a good thing and now has turned into a "sess-poole". However, negatives do turn into positives and adversity turns into victory! Many blessings to this man and with faith and hard work, all will turn out well!! Keep up the positive attitude! peggygurney- you will be blessed also!

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4becky47(34 comments)posted 4 years, 4 months ago

What can we do to help this man? If anyone knows what he might need..dogfood, blankets,food,help fixing upt the house please let us know.. I would also like to help in some way.

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5legend33(169 comments)posted 4 years, 4 months ago

Insure it for 10K, pay a brother $200 and some crack to burn it down, collect and go back to Caly.

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6walter_sobchak(2713 comments)posted 4 years, 4 months ago

So, this guy wants to spend $13,000 on a home, site unseen, and I'm supposed to feel sorry for him? There's a sucker born every minute. Why wouldn't he spend an additional couple of hundred dollars and have a home inspection done? Or, contact a realtor with listings in the adjacent neighborhood to do a quick peek? Would you spend $13,000 on a vehicle and not start it up and take it for a test drive? This guy thought he was getting a sweet deal, something for very little, and he got stung.

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7redvert(2239 comments)posted 4 years, 4 months ago

Exactly Walter, if you think you are getting something for nothing you are getting what you deserve!

Also, there is a saying, "one picture is worth a thousand words". My version if that saying is "one picture may be worth a thousand words but one look in person is worth a thousand pictures"

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8endthismess(464 comments)posted 4 years, 4 months ago

It is always "Buyer Beware". When you have a problem with your eyes you go to the eye doctor, not a window washer. When your dog has a problem you go to a vet, not the guy who picks up trash along the highway. If you are buying a car you don't go to a local baker hoping to see cars on display. When you are buying a house, find a local REALTOR. They are all state licensed and must be at all times. Agents will always tell you the truth, good or bad and will represent a buyer according to local, state and federal laws. A buyer is under no obligation and pays no one to learn the real facts about any house. A seller pays the commission, not the buyer. Never be taken advantage of. A house can often times be the largest single investment in one's lifetime. Do it the right way, even if your are a cash buyer. Protect your hard earned money. Seek the council of a state licensed real estate sales professional. Don't be a carpet baggers victim. These scum bags are all liars and operate 24/7, especially on craigslsit. Buyer Beware!

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9boardmanres(40 comments)posted 4 years, 4 months ago

Peggy and Becky , that is wonderful of you to offer to help this man.
Sure this guy may have made a mistake in his reasoning. , hell, even a house like this would go for 100K in California.
We can really show this man what this valley stands for by stepping up and helping him. He might even tell some of his friends what a great place the valley is and they could move here also. Hope to see some kind of action group gathered to assist this man.

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10city_resident(528 comments)posted 4 years, 4 months ago

I agree with "buyer beware" and that he should have researched more thoroughly. But, I wish this man the best of luck in the future. He will have a beautiful home, when he's done.

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11peggygurney(408 comments)posted 4 years, 4 months ago

Y'all can be as negative as you want to be. Everyone makes a huge mistake in their lives, and this was Rik's. Walter_Sobchak, no one is asking you to feel sorry for anyone. HE sure isn't. HE hasn't asked for help from anyone, in fact. But we're offering it, just the same.

For anyone who's interested, we're sponsoring a work day at his house this coming Saturday, 9am - 4pm. ANY amount of time that you can volunteer would be much appreciated. Please bring what ever tools you can. (No power tools, as he has no electric yet).

If you have any questions, you can contact me at pgurney9@neo.rr.com.


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12peggygurney(408 comments)posted 4 years, 4 months ago

derf you are without a doubt one of the most hateful people I've ever come in contact with, and I would hate to have to actually meet you.

You do not know this man. Many of us have spent the past few days getting to know him. His story has been checked out and verified.

Rik is NOT a "lowlife", he is a veteran who served this country in the United States Army and served it WELL. He's been a hard worker all his life, until a tragic accident that caused a shattered pelvis. He used the settlement - after all bills were paid - to purchase this house.

He may have gotten burned, but he's not going anywhere. He's a very positive, upbeat, NICE, man who feels blessed to be alive.

YOU could learn something from Rik Blake, I'm betting.

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13peggygurney(408 comments)posted 4 years, 4 months ago

Could you explain what you mean by NOBODY MOVES TO YOUNGSTOWN, OH?

I moved to Youngstown, Ohio 7 years ago this month. And I love it.

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14whitesabbath(738 comments)posted 4 years, 4 months ago

Too much hate for me, hope I see you stranded and delirous not able to call for help, but you know what I would still help you although I don't like you.

Whatever happend to goodness and hope?

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15city_resident(528 comments)posted 4 years, 4 months ago

YMMV, I guess, danikytn. I've loved living here the last 10 years. (and I'm not from here, originally)

My current house is in a beautiful (IMO) neighborhood on the west side near Mill Creek Park. My project house is in another beautiful (IMO) neighborhood on the north side. (not too far from Mr. Blake's house, in fact) I love both houses, both neighborhoods, and have great neighbors in each. I'm leaving the west side neighborhood for the north side, simply for aesthetic preferences. (the houses on the north side are grander)

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16momyof3(1 comment)posted 4 years, 4 months ago

I feel so bad for Rik and would like to help him. Peg I think having a work day is a great idea and will try to come. I will plan to bring some household items for him. Do you think he could use a sofa? They are little old but not in too bad of shape. I will pass the word and see what I can gather.

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17athena62600(8 comments)posted 4 years, 4 months ago

Athena Animal Advocacy Group is going to be collecting items for Rik and his dogs. Anyone interested in donating please email us at athenaanimaladvocates@yahoo.com and we will get you more information about dropping the items off.

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18pgurney(296 comments)posted 4 years, 4 months ago

momyof3, I'm very sure that Rik would be happy to have a sofa. Right now he has just a folding chair to sit on, and a new (to him) bed. But he won't have room for it til after the work day as the house is in such disrepair. If you can hold on to it til after that, he will be thrilled!

I do hope you can come Saturday and please look for me. I look forward to meeting you.

athena62600, fantastic! Thanks so much.

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19hyubso(1 comment)posted 4 years, 4 months ago

Ohio should give away these old broken homes and require rehabbers to live in them for 5 years. Why let these out-of-state junk house flippers walk away with windfall profits that siphon further equity from local communities???

It is better to spend $10,000 repairing a house with,for example, new plastic plumbing, rather than waste $10,000 tearing the house down. An empty lot will sit empty for decades. With no resident on that lot, cities lose income tax revenue from any resident that might have lived there. Ohio could easily repopulate it's cities with economic exiles from California and other more expensive areas of the country. New residents with low housing costs and a lower cost of living bring to Ohio the potential for MORE jobs (and MORE income tax revenue for cities).

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20peggygurney(408 comments)posted 4 years, 4 months ago

The "Work day" at Mr Blake's home today was a resounding success! Quite a bit of work was accomplished - new windows installed, doors hung, trash cleaned out of the house, wood cut for the fireplace, yard cleared of trash and debris. A LOT of people, from all over, showed up to lend a hand for an hour or two, with a few staying all day.

Thanks to ALL who helped!

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21whitesabbath(738 comments)posted 3 years, 8 months ago

He turned out to be a drug addict / con bummer

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