Postcard: Elk Grove

Determined residents are helping one California suburb fight its way back from the housing crisis. Now just might be the right time to buy a home

Mark Richards for TIME

Real Estate Agent Sharon O'Brien, left, reviews pricing of a bank owned home with a client.

The black bus rivals a greyhound in size but has an interior like a limo--and it gets a few curious looks as we wander into the dense neighborhoods of Elk Grove, Calif., a quiet suburb 15 minutes south of Sacramento. Five of us--a mortgage counselor, three investors and I--are looking at 10 recently foreclosed homes dubbed "excellent deals" by the O'Brien Co., the agency that set up the trip.

These "magical misery tours" are real estate agents' attempts to move their ever increasing inventory fast, as the mortgage crisis forces more and more homeowners into foreclosure. The idea originated in nearby...

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