Like countless other Californians, David Milligan was tired of staring at his evicted neighbor's ugly brown lawn. He decided to do something about it. Milligan bought a batch of eco-friendly dye and began using his neighbor's idle lawn as a test lab for painting brown grass green. "The neighbors were impressed with my madness," says Milligan, who has since started a lawn-dyeing division at his company, Alliance Environmental & Compliance.

Lawn painting has been around for years and tends to tick up during droughts. But now, the massive foreclosure crisis has created a booming new market for Milligan and others as cities, banks, and developers struggle to keep their growing inventories of empty houses looking lived in.

"From an aesthetic standpoint, this is the worst part of the foreclosure crisis," says Rene Avila, a director of development services for Perris, California, an Alliance customer. More than 1,000 homes in Perris, population 53,000, are in foreclosure. "We're trying to maintain properties so they stay at a decent value," he says. "It's money well spent."

A three-man crew can clean and colorize a typical lawn in four hours, for $500. Finding opportunity in his neighbor's faded yard, says Milligan, "was definitely a light-bulb moment."