Our opinion: Predators abound in real estate

Predators in the wild prowl around the edges of a herd of animals, waiting to pick the vulnerable. They may lie in wait, camouflaged until it is time to pounce.

In real estate, the wolves and hyenas are corporations that buy up properties from the desperate. The bait can be the simplicity of the advertising. Someone struggling to pay the mortgage sees a sign on a telephone poll. “We buy houses,” it says, with a phone number, promising a quick way out of a problem. It isn’t always that easy.

Predatory residential property companies can be like those wolves that target the injured deer. There can be aggressive, hard-sell tactics. They might take advantage of the elderly or flout state laws about getting out of contracts, according to ProPublica reporting.

But another problem is when there are too many wolves. In the wild, that can mean overhunting the prey and throwing the ecosystem out of balance. Too many wolves isn’t just bad for the deer. It’s bad for the whole area — including the wolves.

With real estate, that translates to more and more residential housing being snapped up by corporations, lowering inventory and raising prices.

A Tribune-Review story shows that in Allegheny County, the number of corporate-owned homes rose from 9.7% in 2010 to 18% in 2021. In Pittsburgh alone, the jump was 15.5% in 2010 to 24.8% in 2021.

That is particularly alarming amid high housing costs that are pricing people out of rentals, too. Homelessness is also an increasing concern. Like the forest ecosystem, they are all connected in the same web.

It’s an issue being addressed at the federal level by the Stop Predatory Investing Act introduced by U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, with support from U.S Sen. John Fetterman, D-Braddock. Pittsburgh City Council is considering it, with Councilwoman Deb Gross, D-Highland Park, introducing legislation which would require the companies to get a license annually with a $200 fee, proof of insurance and a background check.

It’s an issue the state should take steps to address. Pennsylvania licenses people to sell real estate, to arrange funerals.

It is one of only eight states plus the District of Columbia that demands registration for upholstering.

The state has taken steps to address predatory lending and rent-to-own schemes, but this is an area that deserves additional attention.

The Keystone State might see more keys put in more families’ hands if there were closer attention paid to predators circling vulnerable owners.


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