Zombies Lurk in Real Estate, Even With Safety Nets in Place

October 30, 2020

Abandoned foreclosures labeled as “zombies” still haunt some housing markets even as moratoriums to stop home seizures during the pandemic remain in effect. While the number of “zombie foreclosures” has shrunk drastically during the COVID-19 outbreak, some homeowners who may be missing out on pandemic relief aid may be needlessly abandoning a home.

“Zombie foreclosures” refer to homes that have been vacated by homeowners prior to a foreclosure being completed.

“It’s worth noting that while foreclosure moratoria have caused the number of zombie properties to drop slightly, the percentage of foreclosure properties in zombie status has increased,” says Rick Sharga, executive vice president of RealtyTrac. “It’s likely that as the length of time it takes to execute a foreclosure continues to increase, we’ll also continue to see the percentage of vacant and abandoned foreclosure homes increase.”

There is help available for the growing number of homeowners who are delinquent on their mortgages, according to a recent Urban Institute report. About 400,000 homeowners are delinquent at a time when banks are offering pandemic-related foreclosure moratoriums—upon homeowners’ request. So anyone affected by the economic downfall brought on by the coronavirus can put their mortgage payments on hold for several months.

But struggling borrowers who fail to contact their lenders for help may risk foreclosure by falling behind on their payments.

The Midwest and South had the highest zombie foreclosure rates in the fourth quarter, according to ATTOM Data Solutions’ fourth-quarter 2020 Vacant Property and Zombie Foreclosure Report. In particular, states such as Iowa (15.5%), Kentucky (12%), Missouri (10.2%), Georgia (9.6%), and Maryland (9.2%) have the highest clusters of vacant foreclosures.

Zombie rates in the fourth quarter rose in 37 states and Washington, D.C. While the highest rates of zombie foreclosures remain in the South and Midwest, the highest actual numbers of zombie properties are in the Northeastern and Midwestern states, led by Florida, Illinois, Ohio, and New Jersey.

“Some of the states with the highest rate of zombie foreclosure properties are also states that have been among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Sharga says. “When the government bans on foreclosure activity expire, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the number of defaults in those states increase more rapidly than other parts of the country, and the number of zombie foreclosure properties rise more dramatically in those states as well.”

Broken out by metro level, the areas that had the highest zombie foreclosure rates in the fourth quarter are Kansas City, Mo. (17.2% of properties in the foreclosure process); Peoria, Ill. (16.3%); Omaha, Neb. (15%); Davenport, Iowa (13.8%); and Cleveland (13.2%).

On the other hand, the metro areas with the lowest zombie rates in the fourth quarter are San Francisco (0.8% of foreclosure properties); Charlotte, N.C. (1.4%); Denver (1.7%); Philadelphia (1.7%); and New York City (1.8%).