Houses worth less than their pipes

The crashing US housing market and the high price of metal has led to a bizarre situation: Some houses are now worth less than the scrap metal in their pipes.

Real estate brokers and local authorities say once-proud homes coast-to-coast are being stripped for copper, aluminum and brass by thieves. Much of it ends up with scrap metal traders who say nearly all copper gets shipped overseas, much of it to China and India.

In areas hit hardest by foreclosures, such as the Slavic Village neighborhood of Cleveland, copper and other metals used in plumbing, heating systems and telephone lines are now more valuable than some homes.

“We’re in an incredibly unfortunate time where the nonferrous metals commodities market for scrap is at an all-time high. Houses are getting stripped pretty quickly once they go through the foreclosure process,” Cleveland City Councilman Tony Brancatelli said.

“We’re seeing houses sold for $100 that are distressed houses that should not be recycled,” he said. Some boarded-up homes in his Slavic Village community have “No copper, only PVC” painted on the boards to stop would-be thieves.

I’d guess that for things to get this bad in Vancouver not only would we need to see an absolutely horrible housing market crash, we’d also need to see a boom in the price of scrap stainless steel and granite.