America's New Ghost Towns


Can a house be called "abandoned" if it's never been lived in? That's the status of much of the USA's modern ruins, victims of the housing bubble's abrupt burst, many of them foreclosed upon and forsaken before construction had even finished. The iconic picture of this ruin, so far, seems to be of skaters using the drained pools of foreclosed homes to practice -- "God bless Greenspan," one skater wrote online, "patron saint of pool skatin." But there's much more to see, and to capture the scale of our new ghost towns, the New York Times sent photographer Edgar Martins on a cross-country photo shoot -- and he returned with some very evocative images.

For this subdivision in Dawsonville, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta, an appraiser and a developer together created false documents that led a California bank to offer nearly $5 million in mortgages for 15 homes — houses that were neither finished nor ready for occupancy. Out-of-state investors, relying on the false appraisals, purchased the properties, usually sight-unseen. The developer, Jeffery Alan Teague, was arrested after an F.B.I. investigation and is now serving more than 15 years in prison. The home buyers — many of whom most likely intended to flip the properties without ever seeing them — are now stuck with a nearly worthless asset. The neighborhood has become a dumping ground and is increasingly overgrown.

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In Greenwich, Conn., luxury developers built scores of mansions during the boom, assuming they would find buyers. After the market turned, though, many remained unsold; as of last month, 107 "spec" houses were listed for sale in the town, with prices ranging from $800,000 to $18.6 million.

This seven-bed, 10-bath 1920s-style estate — recently repossessed by Patriot National Bank — was initially offered at just under $10 million. For parts of last winter, its doors were left unlocked and often open, and leaves blew in.

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This project in downtown Phoenix was supposed to include nearly two dozen luxury homes, priced from $2.8 million to $4.5 million. But by early 2007, the city's high-end condominium market — which was among the country's hottest — had become oversaturated. Prices started to fall, and Chateaux on Central's developer, Central PHX Partners, declared bankruptcy. A local commercial lender, Mortgages Ltd., stepped in that year with an offer to provide nearly $50 million in loans to help Central PHX complete construction. But the deal turned sour, and in March 2008, the developer sued Mortgages Ltd., claiming the lender had not made promised payments. On June 2, 2008, the C.E.O. of Mortgages Ltd., Scott Coles, committed suicide. At the time, one-third of his company's loans were in default. More than a year later, Chateaux on Central remains unoccupied and unfinished.

For more, check out the Times' "Ruins of the Second Gilded Age."