Imagine learning your home suddenly lost more than a third of its value thanks to one word written on a piece of paper.
It happened to dozens of homeowners last month.
The I-Team has learned part of the reason is a response to a massive sinkhole miles away from the affected home.
“You can see right here where it's starting to raise up and it has actually cracked,” Ashley Bolin said, showing us cracks in her walls and around her pool deck.
Every new crack in Bolin's home scares her. When she bought the Spring Hill house last year she knew there had been sinkhole activity identified there, but she thought it had been fixed through underpinning.
“This is one of them that's actually hooked to the house,” Bolin said showing a pin on the corner of her house.
She said she originally felt great about it. That was until last month when she and 83 other Hernando County homeowners got letters from the property appraiser saying he was changing their homes from being considered “repaired” to being “unrepaired”, reducing appraised value by 35 percent.
“Here I am with a 30-year mortgage and I'm paying all this money for a home that might not be structurally stable,” said Bolin.
The reason for the reclassification was because the underpinning technique used in those homes was the same one used on a home that collapsed into a sinkhole in Land O' Lakes in July .
“If you sold that a month before and sold it as a repaired sinkhole and the next month that happened? They're gonna blame all kinds of people,” said Hernando County Property Appraiser John Emerson, who made the decision to change the classifications.
He described the reaction of most people who got the letter as “pretty upset.”
Emerson keeps records on more than 4,000 sinkhole properties. About 35 percent are unrepaired. Of the remaining ones, many were not repaired according to the recommendation of the engineers who conducted the original investigations.
“There was like a conflict. This one says you need to do grout. This one says we're gonna do underpinning,” said Emerson.
Grouting involves pumping concrete underground to seal holes in the bedrock, which keeps soil from being washed away.
Underpinning, a much cheaper fix, fastens houses to bedrock with metal pins.
So Emerson flagged homes in which subsoil conditions weren't addressed in the second engineers’ reports.
“To retroactively go back and say something is unrepaired when it was repaired and the county accepted it, that seems a little crazy to me,” said Steve Fingerman, who is President of E Loan Mortgage.
That company financed and marketed Bolin’s home.
“I think it was a knee jerk reaction to what happened in Land O’ Lakes,” Fingerman said.
Records show Fingerman and his business associates hired Engineer Mark Richter for more than 20 underpinning recommendations in Hernando county since 2013.
“You have an engineer that's giving you an opinion that it's gonna get stabilized for much less,” Fingerman said, as opposed to grouting options, that can cost exponentially more.
The state fined Richter last year for practicing architecture without a license. He was unavailable to talk to us.
Meanwhile Emerson is softening the policy change at the property appraiser’s office
“All the yellow ones in here are the ones we've already identified as pinned,” he said, pointing to the affected properties on the county’s GIS map.
Instead of calling them “unrepaired” he will now call them “pinned” to differentiated between grouted homes.
Emerson says the market will decide if that affects home values.
“I feel like packing my bags up and just waiting for all of this to get figured out,” said Bolin.
Bolin has already hired a lawyer. They are still trying to figure out who they want held responsible.
“I don't have anywhere else to go. I'm a single mother. This is my home,” she said.
You can see Hernando County’s sinkhole map here: https://www.hernandocountygis-fl.us/CentralGISMap/?config=configsinkhole.txt
If you are having issues with an underpinned sinkhole, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org .