While a “zombie foreclosure” may sound like something you would find on a particularly messy episode of The Walking Dead, the term actually describes a problem plaguing towns around New Jersey.
Of all the American homes currently in the foreclosure process, one in four were vacated by homeowners prior to a bank repossessing the property, according to RealtyTrac, a company that tracks national housing data.
RealtyTrac calls these zombie foreclosures. These houses sit abandoned, with the homeowners gone and the bank not yet in possession of the properties.
New Jersey has the highest rate of foreclosures — and zombie foreclosures — in the nation.
RealtyTrac reported in June that 17,000 of the roughly 70,000 homes in foreclosure in New Jersey in the second quarter of 2015 were “zombies.”
As many Gloucester County towns have seen, these vacant properties quickly fall into disrepair. As the grass grows out of control, so do many other issues. Abandoned houses become targets for vandalism, squatters and drug dealers. Many are targets for metal thieves, who remove copper piping, wiring and other goodies to sell to scrap dealers.
These situations endanger neighboring properties both by introducing safety issues and dragging down property values in the area. When no one is accountable for these properties, it’s often local taxpayers who pick up the tab for mowing the grass and dealing with any other maintenance issues.
The current estimate on the number of abandoned or vacant properties in Gloucester County sits at 3,300, according to county officials — about 3 percent of the county’s more than 110,000 housing units.