‘Zombie’ foreclosures linger in South Florida

Foreclosures of abandoned homes are declining locally, though the numbers still outpace most areas nationwide, a new report shows.

Palm Beach County had 2,749 so-called zombie foreclosures at the end of the third quarter, down 35 percent from the same period a year ago, according to the RealtyTrac firm.

Broward had 3,437 owner-vacated properties in the foreclosure process, off 19 percent from the third quarter of 2013.

Even so, Broward had the nation’s third-highest number of zombie foreclosures, after Cook County, Ill., (3,982 properties) and Miami-Dade County (3,683). Palm Beach County was fifth.

Florida led all states with 35,913 abandoned properties waiting to be repossessed, easily topping No. 2 New York (12,683).

While new foreclosure filings are down in South Florida, courts still are trying to resolve existing cases from the housing bust. It takes an average of 951 days — more than two years — for a typical home to work its way through the foreclosure process in Florida, RealtyTrac said.

Zombie foreclosures hurt the housing market because the homes aren’t being maintained. The owners have moved out, but the lenders don’t yet own the properties.

“The homes are in poor condition, so they drag down overall neighborhood property values,” said Daren Blomquist, a vice president of RealtyTrac, a foreclosure listing company based in Irvine, Calif.

Meanwhile, the homes aren’t getting into the hands of buyers, who are starved for more choices.

During the housing downturn, analysts warned about a “shadow” inventory of foreclosed homes that would eventually hit the market and depress prices.

But strong demand, particularly from investors, propped up pricing and eventually created a shortage of homes for sale.

Another wave of distressed homes would be well-received, said Lex Levinrad, principal of the Distressed Real Estate Institute, a club for investors across South Florida.

“I would actually love to have more properties on the MLS,” he said. “There’s so much demand that it would be great to have more inventory.”

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