04/04/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Looting Real Estate Booty

I received an e-mail that caused my stomach to churn:

We're in the market to invest some monies in real estate, since the banks are offering such low CD rates. If you know of anything that we can absolutely, positively steal in [X area], please let us know.

This indelicately phrased request was not really a surprise. In my law practice, I've been hearing variations on the pilfering theme since regional home values plunged and foreclosures climbed upward. But for some reason this e-mail, on this particular day, really disturbed me. I'd spent the better part of an emotional afternoon taking phone calls from distraught clients. One homeowner was trying to save her home from foreclosure, another was attempting to hand his house back to the mortgage holder without totally demolishing his credit score and a third was on the verge of tears as he described how his marriage was unraveling. Relocated to another state by his company, he battled continuously with his frustrated wife, left behind in the house they couldn't sell at the amount they owed the bank.

While really rankled by the investor in thief's clothing, I routinely steer clear of taking philosophical sides in transactions -- I am happy to represent whichever party calls me first. Yet the blatant double emphasis on the word "steal" by this potential client made it crystal clear that he was soliciting my assistance in seizing upon some seller's desperate situation. From where I sit, swelling your savings on the misery of others is not a healthy way to remedy what ails us as a country.

I am anxious to help nurse the sick real estate marketplace back to health, but aiding and abetting an influx of investors shunning trifling bank returns amounts to faith healing. We need stable neighborhoods and hordes of homeowners who can make decisions without feeling there are guns pointed at their heads. The cure begins when mortgage holders start earnestly adjusting monthly payments plus principal, allowing would-be sellers breathing room. These sellers then can wait for improvement in the job market, allowing buyers with the desire to own their own homes (at reasonable prices) to qualify for loans.

I'm a realist: I appreciate how necessary investment money will be in mending the business of real estate. But for a quality repair that serves to restore our economy, investing should be one part of the give and take of a robust real estate market, rather than serving as the plunder of privileged pirates looking to turn their swag into sure-fire moneymakers.