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Zombie properties returning to life

Gigi Douban Sep 8, 2016
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A vacant home stands next to a partially constructed condo building in Rockaway Beach, New York. 
Mario Tama/Getty Images

A report released Thursday from real estate data firm ATTOM Data Solutions offers another sign that the vacant property glut from the housing crisis is shrinking. The number of vacant properties in foreclosure limbo has fallen as banks have taken over tens of thousands of these houses. That means happier neighbors and local governments awaiting property tax payments.  

They’re called zombie properties because, like zombies, these houses are empty and in bad shape.  

Sometimes they’ve been urban mined. You know, copper piping has been stripped out by vandals,” Daren Blomquist, senior vice president of ATTOM Data Solutions, said.

He said for years after the housing crash, there were tons of these houses out there, mostly in urban areas. The banks had started to foreclose on them. The owners moved out and then, for whatever reason, the banks didn’t foreclose. Now, banks are finally buying them up. 

“We saw a decrease in these zombie properties down 9 percent from a year ago,” Blomquist said. 

And the number of vacant properties owned by banks went up 67 percent. Susan Wachter, professor of real estate finance at the Wharton School, said the decrease in vacant properties is a signal. 

“This is the last innings for the recovery,” she said. 

So why has it taken banks so long? Wachter said as vacancies go down, housing prices go up. And the more prices increase, the more banks can recoup on those foreclosure sales. 

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