Wilson Molina dabbles in the American Dream business. The Twin Cities-based realtor moonlights as a house rehabilitator, purchasing distressed properties on the cheap from the city and turning them into shiny, affordable abodes.
Last June, Molina bought a vacant four-bedroom place in the Phillips neighborhood of south Minneapolis for $42,000. In real estate parlance, it was a place with "potential." In layman's speak, it was a dump. The floors needed a complete makeover; overhauls were mandatory for the electrical, plumbing, and heating systems.
Rehabbing required months of labor and plenty of capital.
In mid-February, the house was ready for resale. Minneapolis officials were eager to showcase it as a success story of the Vacant Housing Recycling Program, the city's vacant home rehab program.
The "celebration" was advertised for Friday, February 19 in the afternoon. WCCO-TV dispatched reporter Kate Raddatz to cover the event. Her segment "Housing Recycling Program Turns Old Homes Into Hot Property" aired on the six o'clock news.
The house was listed for $299,000. Molina had a full-price offer before the end of the day.
"I look at it as an opportunity where everybody wins," Molina tells City Pages. "What was a house where nobody lived and that no one wanted, becomes a nice new affordable home for the buyer. The city increases home ownership, which is good for the greater community. At the same time, we make a little money."
Molina left the house, which was staged for showing with items like furniture and rugs, late Friday afternoon. He returned around 10 a.m. the following Monday to discover it had been raided by thieves.
"They took everything," he says. "Two fridges, a range, all the furniture, hand rails. They even took a toilet and ripped out the copper wiring from behind where one of the appliances was. They did leave the kitchen sink, but stole the $100 Delta faucet."
A neighbor informed Molina that three people had been at the house earlier that morning. They brought a U-Haul and filled it up.
"My guess is they knew the house was vacant after watching the story on the news," says Molina, who estimates they made off with $3,000 in staged wares and an additional $3,000 to $4,000 in appliances. "I say that because, until the open house, we hadn't had any problems for months when the house stood vacant."
As he now replaces the pillaged appliances, Molina is waiting on Minneapolis police to track down the criminals.
"It was pretty brazen," he says. "They were smoking in the house. They spilled pop on the floor. Whoever they are, it is my hope the police will find and charge them. When you put so much hard work and time into a project, then have something like this happen, it's devastating."
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