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Kennedy: Area still haunted by 'zombies'

Kennedy: Area still haunted by 'zombies'

Here’s a Top 10 showing we won’t be bragging about: finishing No. 7 among U.S. metro housing markets with the most “zombie” foreclosures this quarter.

The list, released last week by Attom Data Solutions, says the Albany-Schenectady-Troy metro has 174 zombie properties among the single-family homes and condos currently in foreclosure.

Zombies are a special subset of residential real estate foreclosures, sitting vacant and in limbo after being abandoned by owners delinquent on their mortgages, but not yet securely in the hands of the lender holding the loan.

And because New York is a so-called judicial foreclosure state, courts have to approve a lender’s attempt to foreclose – meaning that zombies can be around for awhile as repossession plods along. (Indeed, comparable data a few years back had the Albany-Schenectady-Troy metro ranked No. 6 in zombie foreclosures by RealtyTrac, now an Attom holding.)

The Capital Region also wasn’t the only New York metro on the new Attom Top 10 list: At No. 1 was the New York City area, with 1,556 zombies, and close behind us at No. 8 was Rochester, with 172 zombies.

Attom also noted in its report that among states, New York had the country’s highest number of zombie properties, 2,428. In all, Attom reported, 9,600 zombies sat empty this quarter countrywide, about 3.2 percent of the more than 300,000 homes in the process of foreclosure.

But there’s a bright spot, according to Attom: The zombie count is down by nearly half from the company’s last foreclosure vacancy report in 2016.

California-based Attom, which analyzed tax assessor data to compile the report, credited the decline to an ongoing housing boom, while recognizing that “a handful of areas still face problems” with zombies. Those issues can range from minor (overgrown yards) to serious (structures that deteriorate into safety hazards).

Earlier this year, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who has kept an eye on foreclosures for their impact on local government, reported that they continued to decline steadily across the state from their highs following the 2007-09 financial crisis. A few
stubborn pockets of high foreclosure rates remain, though. His report praised efforts in particular to deal with zombies, including an expansion in the number of state-authorized land banks that can acquire distressed properties and make
them productive again, and the creation of a state database for vacant and abandoned homes.

The latter, established in late 2016 by the Department of Financial Services, which oversees lenders, requires that mortgage-holders inspect and maintain properties that face foreclosure. Zombies must be put on the vacant and abandoned database so local officials know whom to contact if problems arise.

“The good news is that a wide range of stakeholders are committed to tackling the foreclosure and zombie property problems, and they are expanding the tools available to do so,” DiNapoli’s report concluded.

Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at [email protected]

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