EATONVILLE, Fla. — Bryan McFarlane’s worked in real estate since the age of 19. For him, it’s the feeling of giving something back that makes his work meaningful.

What You Need To Know

  •  Local real estate agents say there is a lot of room for revitalized affordable housing in Central Florida

  •  Currently, Florida has more “zombie” properties than almost any other state

  • Foreclosure filing rates in Florida are up 60% from last year

“I like to leave something behind saying I touched that, I did that,” McFarlane said. “Looking back and seeing somebody enjoying what we’ve built, it’s the world for me.”

McFarlane, originally from New Jersey, now runs the Ocoee-based Pink Management, LLC, alongside his wife Valerie. Their work focuses on housing development and rehabilitation — and lately, a bit of new building construction. 

After purchasing a property from local real estate agent Chris Allredge, the McFarlane couple developed a friendship with him. Now, all three are collaborating on a rehab project of their own: a single-family Eatonville home Allredge bought earlier this year from the company he works for, Spectrum Property Group

Allredge said vacant, abandoned or otherwise distressed homes are exactly what he and his fellow acquisition agents look for.

“Definitely dated. Sometimes, the uglier the better,” he said.

The company purchases those seemingly undesirable properties and sells them back to investors, who then fix up the homes to put back on the market. 

With this Eatonville home, though, Allredge is playing the part of investor, working alongside the McFarlanes to update and improve the circa-1963 home, so someone new can live there. The team is focused on making the relatively small property more energy efficient.

“We try and maximize the space the best way we can,” McFarlane said, pointing out the home’s new tankless water heater.

Unlike traditionally large and cumbersome cylinder-shaped water heaters, the small, nondescript gray box mounts to the wall, only heating water as is needed, McFarlane said.

But the energy-saving measures don’t stop there: The rehab team has also added a new A/C unit, replaced electrical panels and traded out the home’s original lighting for LED fixtures.

“When you’ve got people that are buying houses on a budget and you have utility costs, this is a tremendous cost saving,” McFarlane said.

Saving money remains top of mind for many Americans, as the country continues battling the coronavirus pandemic’s financial fallout.

Foreclosure filing rates are 60% higher than at this point last year, following last month’s expiration of a national ban on foreclosures for federally-backed mortgages.

In the Orlando metro area, the change isn’t as stark: Foreclosures are up 17.3% from last year according to Attom, a firm that collects and analyzes national property data. 

For Allredge and his colleagues, the foreclosure moratorium halted lots of business over the last year and a half. 

“The market shut down for us as property values were skyrocketing into this year,” Allredge said. “Sellers were very reluctant to give up properties that were distressed, because they thought they could make more from them … we were having a huge problem finding inventory to sell.”

Since about June, though, Allredge said business is definitely starting to pick up, as more sellers start to realize they can’t sell their distressed properties at market rate.

Right now, Attom data shows Florida has more “zombie properties” — homes abandoned by their owners before the foreclosure process can begin — than almost any other state, aside from New York and Ohio.

On a national scale, the Biden Administration recently reiterated its commitment to expanding the country’s drastically short affordable housing supply, including by prioritizing the sale of distressed properties to nonprofits and community organizations. 

Each year, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) sells off defaulted properties in bulk to buyers who focus on affordable housing and community revitalization. Usually, HUD reserves 10% of those home sales for nonprofits and community groups, but the agency’s currently weighing whether to expand that to 50%, starting this year.

For his part, Bryan McFarlane is focused on completing this rehab project so it can become someone else’s home — hopefully, even for the friend or family member of a neighbor here in Eatonville.

“Most of the folks that live on this block have lived here their entire life, generation after generation,” McFarlane said. “(The area) has a lot of historic value, it has a lot of history, rich history. And what we like to do is kind of bring back to the neighborhood what it's lost.”

Molly Duerig is a Report for America corps member who is covering Affordable Housing for Spectrum News 13. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.