In the sweltering heat last summer, real estate agent Iddo Gavish walked into one of his foreclosed home listings in North Las Vegas and gagged at the stench.
He staggered back to his car and got a T-shirt to cover his mouth and nose. It didn't take long to find the source of the foul smell when he re-entered the home. There lay a dead cat in the living room.
Gavish called police to another foreclosed home in northwest Las Vegas. He'd come upon a stash of ammunition in one of the closets.
Going through homes repossessed by banks and turned over to Gavish Real Estate to be cleaned out and resold can seem like picking from a box of chocolates. The broker, who has about 400 listings, is never sure what he'll get.
Business had dried up in the past few weeks, perhaps because of the moratorium on foreclosures by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, perhaps because of the Obama administration's home rescue plan, he says.
But Gavish suspected things will begin picking up now with last week's release by banks of a new wave of foreclosures.
They'll be negotiating "cash for keys," offering money to people being evicted to help them with moving expenses on the condition they don't destroy the home when they leave.
Or take anything of value that's not bolted down -- and some that is -- like the owners of a foreclosed luxury home in the Seven Hills subdivision of Henderson did. They took the custom cabinets, marble countertops, brass doorknobs, carpet and light fixtures. They even took the toilets.
The six-bedroom, 7,700-square-foot home on an 18,000-square-foot lot was once appraised for more than $4 million. It's now listed for $1.7 million, or $219 a square foot. It needs about $100,000 of inside remodeling and $50,000 of landscaping and exterior work, Gavish estimated.
"People think foreclosures only hit the low-end homes, but the reality is it's hit all homes," he said.
Harley Marks, owner of American Home Services, said most people being evicted from a foreclosed home don't have time to pack everything and they're certainly not going to clean the place.
He sees a lot of "just junk and garbage" when he's called in to clean out a home.
"Old furniture, clothes. Children's toys. That's odd for me, being a father with two little ones. I wouldn't leave my children's toys," Marks said.
Kent Babcock, a carpenter by trade, has been busy repairing about 40 real estate-owned, or bank-owned, properties being handled by local real estate agents. People have punched holes in the walls, poured bleach on the carpet and torn doors from the hinges.
Someone tried to pour QuikRete, a fast-setting packaged concrete, down toilets and sinks, but wasn't able to do much damage because he or she didn't do it right, Babcock said. The concrete "set up" too quickly and dried in the trap instead of getting down to the main line, he said.
"There was so much damage on one house that the mortgage company was going after them," Babcock said. "It was probably $20,000. I met with police on that one."
Homeowners are really feeling the effects of foreclosures in Las Vegas, said Craig Smith, chief executive officer of ServiceMagic. Once homeowners leave their homes due to foreclosure, odds are they give up on maintaining the homes, leaving that to the new homeowners.
Damage can be costly and time-consuming to fix, Smith said. In the last year, his company has seen a 12 percent increase in requests for remodeling, repairing and renovations in Las Vegas.
John LaBaum of Squatter Alert said foreclosed homes are sometimes inhabited by people who shouldn't be there. His business secures and monitors vacant homes.
"The pizza delivery guy that was ambushed, that would have never happened," LaBaum said in reference to the January slaying of a man who delivered pizza to an unoccupied home in North Las Vegas. "We go into the pizza places and tell them what homes are vacant in that area."
Las Vegas homeowner Sydney Knott blames banks for ruining neighborhoods. They made subprime loans to people who shouldn't have qualified and then they were bailed out by taxpayers' dollars, she said. Now they're selling foreclosed homes at a fraction of market value.
She's seen homes in an older neighborhood near Christy Lane and Charleston Boulevard that once sold for as much as $280,000 being sold by the bank for $52,000 to $74,000, or about what they cost when they were built 20 years ago.
"The banks are showing no respect for Las Vegas homeowners," Knott said. "Once again, the taxpayers who did not cause this problem, but who have been paying their mortgage and using the equity to take a vacation or send kids to college, are left with nothing but a worthless home to show for their hard work."
That will result in more foreclosures, she said. People who've seen their home values undercut by banks are walking away and going down the block to buy the same home for half price.
Contact reporter Hubble Smith at email@example.com or 702-383-0491.