Zombie Wagon

‘Zombie’ Houses in Foreclosure Can Sit Vacant, Haunt Neighbors for Years

On Berdan Avenue in Fair Lawn, a piece of black tarp hangs off the roof of a brick Cape Cod, and two dead evergreens stand sentinel at the front steps. Get close to the house and you’ll catch a whiff of mold.

On Cumberland Avenue in Teaneck, weeds grow through the patio behind a vacant brick ranch; inside, paint is peeling off the walls in sheets.

Neighbors call these homes eyesores. Real estate experts have another name: “Zombie” houses — homes in foreclosure that stay empty and neglected for years.

A decade after the housing market began its slide into the worst downturn in generations, New Jersey still has about 4,000 homes left empty because of foreclosures, according to RealtyTrac, which follows the foreclosure market nationwide. That’s about 6.2 percent of the total number in foreclosure in the state, higher than the national rate of 4.7 percent.

These abandoned homes are a headache for towns and neighbors. Under New Jersey law, the properties have to be maintained by the mortgage lender while they’re in the foreclosure process, but neighbors say the maintenance usually doesn’t go beyond mowing the lawn and making sure the doors are locked.

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