Associated Press

With a $165,000 price tag, the two-story, four-bedroom house for sale in Avondale was a steal.

Three years ago, when the house was new, a family paid $416,000 for it.

But its soaring living-room ceiling, whirlpool bath, three-car garage and pool with a slide and waterfall weren't enough to make it much more than a handyman's special. Thieves made off with the home's $30,000 custom-kitchen and other fixtures after it went into foreclosure.

Custom cabinets, appliances, granite countertops and other fixtures just disappeared one day.

"These are fixtures that are supposed to be part of the house. They basically took $30,000 out of the kitchen and left,” said John Lincoln, the real-estate agent who recently sold the house to buyers who don't mind fixing it.

Julie Halferty, a special agent who oversees the Phoenix FBI Mortgage Fraud Task Force, said no one knows exactly how many foreclosed houses in metropolitan Phoenix have been stripped by former owners, neighbors or strangers.

Those who work in real estate believe the number is in the thousands.

"Without question, probably 85 to 90 percent of houses on the market under $200,000 have been stripped,” said Tempe real-estate agent Kim Baker.

"Appliances are the most commonly poached item, but plumbing fixtures and faucets, ceiling fans, light fixtures, water heaters and air conditioning units are fair game” in the eyes of the strippers, she said.

Halferty said she and her fellow FBI agents "haven't been able to quantify it, but we know it is rampant.”

She said that since metropolitan Phoenix foreclosures are up 600 percent since 2005 — half of the homes sold here this summer were bank-owned — she believes stripping is more common here than anywhere else in the nation.

"These crimes are happening with enough frequency that it has caught the attention of law enforcement, Realtors and lenders across our state,” said Tom Farley, executive director of the Arizona Association of Realtors.

"Many Realtors are taking photos of the interior of the home as soon as they take a lender-owned listing to document the condition of the property in case of vandalism,” Farley said.

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