Why Zombie Homes Are Consuming Entire Neighborhoods

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — The nation’s housing market is on the mend. In many neighborhoods the only problem is lack of inventory for sale. And then there is a starker, darker reality: 127,021 homes nationally are what real estate data company RealtyTrac calls zombies, and that is one in every four homes in the foreclosure process. They are strangling neighborhoods, even some towns.

A zombie happens when the homeowner has packed up and moved out - but the mortgage holder has not taken title to the property. What that means is that, usually, all maintenance stops. Lawns aren’t mowed. Snowy sidewalks are not shoveled. Broken window panes are not replaced. Thieves may steal the piping, wiring, sometimes even appliances. Squatters may occupy the dwelling. The house very quickly becomes an eyesore - and a rule of real estate thumb is just one derelict eyesore on a block can ruin the whole block. And a few in a neighborhood can lower the property values throughout the community.

Don’t think the brisk housing market has cured the zombie problem. RealtyTrac numbers make clear this continues to be a huge issue - in at least some areas of some states.

Don’t hunt for zombies in Carnegie Hill, Manhattan or Santa Monica, Calif. or anywhere in San Francisco. There are none. Faramarz Moeen-Ziai, a senior vice president at Commerce Home Mortgage, San Ramon, Calif, said that in the metropolitan California markets where his company is active - the San Francisco area and Los Angeles - zombies just are not the issue they were perhaps six years ago. As homebuyers have emerged in those markets, even homes that might need TLC have gotten snapped up.

But then there is another America.

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