EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


October 27, 2013

'Zombie' homes sit in limbo in Florida and nationally

NAPLES, Fla. -- Steven and Janet Sparker never planned to leave the house they purchased in 2006 in Golden Gate Estates in the southwest section of Florida.

But when Janet, 57, lost her six-figure job, and the home’s value fell by more than half from the $585,000 they had paid for it during the recession, they decided to leave their home and let the bank foreclose on it.

Only the bank didn’t -- and still hasn’t.

So the Sparkers’ home became a so-called “zombie” home -- an unloved, unlived in home in a twilight limbo state -- that’s become a pariah for the owner, the lender and the neighborhood.

Zombie homes are a burden to the owner who bears all the responsibility, yet reaps none of the benefits of homeownership.

“Many homeowners who stop making mortgage payments and abandon their homes are looking for a fresh start,” said Daren Blomquist, chief economist of RealtyTrac, which tracks distressed houses. “They don’t even realize that they are still responsible for taxes and bills.”

They’re also unwanted by banks that already have too many foreclosures on their books, and are in no hurry to assume the headaches of protecting and maintaining them.

Indeed, some banks let previous owners stay in their homes so the owners can keep them up after the banks have repossessed them, turning them into what the Irvine, Calif.-based RealtyTrac calls “vampire houses.”

About 62 percent of bank-owned homes in Collier County and 54 percent in Lee County, both in Florida, fall into that category, compared with 47 percent nationwide.

Because Florida requires judicial review of foreclosures, banks are slow to repossess them, Blomquist said, which is one reason the state leads the nation in the total number of vacated zombie homes.

Of the 152,033 zombie homes nationwide, more than a third, or 54,410, are in Florida, Blomquist said.

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