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Cut-rate Lawn Care for Foreclosures

Rose's commercial U.S. Lawns franchise in Florida mows and tends bank-foreclosed lots for $10 each. It's essentially a loss leader that keeps him in good graces with the community management company. The idea
is catching on.


When 99 percent of homeowners could be counted on for their monthly dues, there was no problem paying the landscape contractors and their staff. The recession turned those numbers upside down. The 1 percent delinquencies are 10 or 20 percent, if a neighborhood is lucky.

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Close to 90 percent of Home Owner Association officers think things will be as bad, or worse, this year, according to a recent statewide study. Almost universally, boards and managers are putting the squeeze on contractors.

Eighty-nine homes in Tampa Florida's Brandon's Heather Lakes fell into foreclosure in 2009, a figure similar to a lot of Florida neighborhoods. Rose, 36, is doing what he can to stay afloat in an industry whose customers -- apartment complexes, homeowner and condominium associations -- can scarcely afford his services.

Drip irrigation, bahia grass instead of St. Augustine, 50 percent turf cover instead of 80 percent, and other Florida-friendly practices are becoming mainstream as both money and water remain scarce. Think of him as a 2010 guy in a 1980 world, with a toolbox that includes a playground for his employees' kids and goats that eat the yard waste. His ambitions are many. Already in place are an energy-efficient building with crushed shells instead of asphalt in the parking lot, a workplace child care center, and an elaborate disposal system for his yard waste. Cattle at the Lutz site eat the grass. Goats eat most of the clippings. Machines grind what's left into compost. Rose estimates he saves $50,000 a year in hauling and dumping costs.

"Nature knows no waste," he said. "Only we create waste."

Still in the planning stage: rooftop photo cells that will harvest enough power to make his operation carbon-neutral, breakfast and lunch service for his crews, maybe biodiesel-powered or electric vehicles someday.

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October 23, 2019, 9:56 pm PDT

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