Will ‘Rental Nation’ plague your property?

South Florida homeownership is down and neighborhoods brim with renters, who don’t care as much about upkeep and issues that keep values high.

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The fragile sense of community in homeowner Bryan Melzard’s neighborhood — the impromptu chats on the sidewalk, shared gripes about overzealous condo commandos — is fading.

More renters are moving into his Greenacres development of about 100 homes, filling investor-owned properties bought at foreclosure fire-sale prices with cash on hand and dreams of big returns. The conversion has meant regular U-haul sightings on the 30th of each month and anonymous neighbors with fewer scruples about loud music.

“There are a lot of nice people here, I will say that, but I don’t know them,” said Melzard, 34. “It very much seems to me like an apartment-type of complex now.”

As corporate America sops up the remnants of the real estate crash, it’s not only more difficult for the traditional buyer with financing to find a home, it’s also planted a niggling concern about how it could change the fabric of the American community.

Wall Street hedge funds and multi-billion dollar companies got into the single-family home business about a year ago. Already, hundreds of Palm Beach County homes are owned by firms such as the Connecticut-based Starwood Property Trust, the Blackstone Group in New York and Canada’s Tricon Capital. The idea is to buy and rent until prices increase enough to make selling profitable.

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