james gregg / arizona daily star

In the world of investment property, they're easily trumped by the Trumps.

But from their modest home in Rita Ranch, Cindi and Todd Lowe are building an impressive real estate portfolio — partly to make some money, but partly to stop the decay in their foreclosure-dotted far Southeast Side neighborhood.

Foreclosures are plentiful in Rita Ranch, where residents report several per street. And where there's a foreclosure, there's a house that's vacant and often in disrepair. That can lead to vandalism and theft, and, in turn, lower property values.

With the foreclosure effect creeping in all around them, the Lowes decided to act. A year ago they started buying up foreclosed homes in Rita Ranch and renovating them.

It's been a nice little earner for them: They've flipped two of their five purchases for about $20,000 profit each. The other homes are rentals.

But the couple says their crusade is about more than making money. They're trying to preserve a neighborhood they've come to love, says Cindi, who has lived there for seven years. Their latest flip was right across the street from them, "so we had a huge interest in it," says Cindi, 42.

The three-bedroom, 1,510-square-foot home has the same floor plan as the Lowes.' They bought it for $114,000, fixed it up and sold it in March for $175,000

"We basically had a shell," Cindi says of the house they were left with after they gutted it, including tearing down an illegal addition. Now owned by first-time buyers Tosca Johnstone and James Healy, the home has new maple cabinetry, granite countertops, carpeting and appliances, at a cost to the Lowes of $23,000.

Neighbor Nadine Azzopardi sees her flipper neighbors as a boon to the neighborhood.

"It's been a wonderful thing the Lowes have done to preserve the integrity of our neighborhood," she says. "It's quaint and very quiet. We watch out for each other. We're all really close," she says of the residents of their street.

Azzopardi has counted four foreclosures on their street alone. "It's shocking to me that it's even happening on my street," she says. Local real estate agents have told Azzopardi the value of her own home "has gone down considerably." A shared endeavor

The Lowes each do their part to buy up foreclosures around them.

Cindi, a stay-at-home mom of two, spots the bargains and does the business deals. Todd, 41, says he does "all the grunt work."

He makes interior design decisions, too. "Maybe I'm in touch with my 'metrosexual' side. I know how to dress people, I can pick out furniture, and I can make a house look good," he says, laughing.

A former customer service manager with Don Mackey Oldsmobile-Cadillac-GMC-Saab, Todd now works in the collections department for home mortgages with Citi Financial — an irony not lost on him.

Does he feel comfortable being a flipper, especially of foreclosed homes? "I hear the absolute worst stories about people losing their house because of the economy. You feel bad for them, you know, but you don't know their situation."

He gives an example of one of the houses he and Cindi bought. The former owners bought it for $87,000 and borrowed so much against it that they owed $204,000 by the time they lost the home in foreclosure.

"I feel bad for people that are legitimately losing their house, but then there are people who are not smart," Todd says.

Buyers of foreclosed homes are often left with places that are trashed — because homeowners are bitter about losing them or, knowing they're giving up their homes, they've allowed them to run down.

"You can walk in a home, and you can feel the anger of the poor people who lost their house. I have cleaned up stuff that would make your skin crawl and make you vomit," says Cindi.

Not everybody is cut out to deal with such things, says the Lowes' real estate agent, Lisa Freeman of Tierra Antigua Realty ,

"There's a lot of stress involved, and there's a lot of stress on relationships when you're doing it with spouses."

Todd would like to venture further afield with a future flip, perhaps to Phoenix. But Cindi believes their success lies in sticking with what and where they know. She's already considering another flip in Rita Ranch.

"We live there; we know the area," she says. "This is our sandbox, so to speak."

And she sees the competition increasing. "It's not quite as easy as it was six months ago to get a foreclosed home dirt cheap. I think (flippers) are all over."

More inside

Buyers fixing up foreclosed homes face obstacles along with significant rewards. See story in At Home.

On StarNet: What are homes selling for in your neighborhood? Find out at azstarnet.com/homes

Tucson housing by the numbers


number of bank-owned properties as of May 25 in Pima County, according to RealtyTrac


Tucson housing inventory, the lowest since January 2006, according to Tucson Association of Realtors Multiple Listing Service