ATTOM released its fourth-quarter 2021 Vacant Property and Zombie Foreclosure Report, showing that 1.3 million (1,312,410) residential properties in the United States sit vacant. That represents 1.3 percent, or one in 75 homes, across the nation.
The report analyzes publicly recorded real estate data collected by ATTOM — including foreclosure status, equity, and owner-occupancy status — matched against monthly updated vacancy data.
The report also reveals that 223,256 residential properties in the U.S. are in the process of foreclosure in the fourth quarter of this year, up 3.6 percent from the third quarter of 2021 and up 11.6 percent from the fourth quarter of 2020. Among those pre-foreclosure properties, 7,432 sit vacant in the fourth quarter of 2021, down quarterly by 1.4 percent and annually by 2.4 percent.
The portion of pre-foreclosure properties that have been abandoned into zombie status dropped slightly from 3.5 percent in the third quarter of 2021 to 3.3 percent in the fourth quarter.
Among the nation’s total stock of 98.8 million residential properties, the portion represented by zombie foreclosures remains miniscule. Just one of every 13,292 homes in the fourth quarter are vacant and in foreclosure, down from one in 13,060 in the third quarter of 2021 and one in 13,074 in the fourth quarter of last year.
The fourth-quarter zombie foreclosure numbers – for the moment – remain one of many measures showing that the decade-long U.S. housing market boom continues marching ahead despite the ongoing economic threat of the Coronavirus pandemic that hit early last year. Home prices in much of the country have soared more than 10 percent over the past year, seller profits commonly exceed 40 percent, and most neighborhoods literally have no empty, blight-inducing homes at some stage in the foreclosure process.
However, the foreclosure scenario stands at a precipice, with zombie counts likely to increase over the coming year. That’s because lenders can resume taking back properties from homeowners who fell far behind on loan payments during the pandemic, following the recent end of a 15-month foreclosure moratorium that affected most mortgage payers. How much and how fast that happens will depend on how many delinquent homeowners can work out repayment plans. Employment is rising as the U.S. economy gradually recovers from the pandemic’s effects. But an estimated 1.5 million to 2 million homeowners were in some kind of forbearance when the moratorium ended July 31, and foreclosure cases are already growing.
“Zombie foreclosures are in a holding pattern this quarter – at least for now,” said Todd Teta, chief product officer with ATTOM. “They’re still totally off the radar screen in most parts of the country, with none in most neighborhoods. But that’s probably going to change soon because lenders can now return to court and take back properties from owners who can’t keep up on their mortgage payments. Foreclosure activity already is on the upswing. So, depending on how fast cases wind through the courts, it’s probably just a matter of time before zombie properties begin creeping back into the mix. As always, we will be on top of this trend.”
Zombie foreclosures inch down, declining in half of U.S. states
A total of 7,432 residential properties facing possible foreclosure have been vacated by their owners nationwide in the fourth quarter of 2021, down from 7,538 in the third quarter of 2021 and from 7,612 in the fourth quarter of 2020. The number has decreased, quarter over quarter as well as year over year, in 25 states.
“Market dynamics – strong demand coupled with historically low inventory of homes for sale – suggest that we shouldn’t see a significant increase in zombie foreclosure properties anytime soon, even with foreclosure activity increasing,” said Rick Sharga, executive vice president at RealtyTrac, an ATTOM company. “Most financially-distressed homeowners should be able to sell their home rather than go through a lengthy foreclosure process where they’d ultimately abandon the property.”
Among states with at least 50 zombie foreclosures during the fourth quarter of 2021, the biggest decreases from the third quarter to the fourth quarter are in Georgia (zombie foreclosures down 29 percent, from 91 to 65), Kentucky (down 10 percent, from 58 to 52), Oklahoma (down 9 percent, from 114 to 104), Connecticut (down 6 percent from 66 to 62) and Illinois (down 6 percent, from 805 to 758).
Largest zombie property counts remain in Northeast and Midwest
Six of the seven states with the most zombie foreclosures are in the Northeast and Midwest. New York continues to have the highest number of zombie properties in the U.S. (2,049 in the fourth quarter of 2021), followed by Ohio (925), Florida (907), Illinois (758) and Pennsylvania (356).
Overall vacancy rates down over past year in all 50 states
Vacancy rates for all residential properties in the U.S. declined to 1.33 percent in the fourth quarter of 2021 (one in 75 properties), from 1.35 percent in the third quarter of 2021 (one in 74) and 1.56 percent in the fourth quarter of last year (one in 64).
Overall vacancy rates decreased in all 50 states from the fourth quarter of 2020 to the fourth quarter of 2021. States with the biggest annual drops are Rhode Island (down from 1.8 percent of all homes in the fourth quarter of 2020 to 0.9 percent in the fourth quarter of this year), Oregon (down from 2 percent to 1.1 percent), Mississippi (down from 2.7 percent to 1.8 percent), Kentucky (down from 1.8 percent to 1.1 percent) and Maryland (down from 1.6 percent to 1.1 percent).
Other high-level findings from the fourth-quarter-2021 data:
- Among 163 metropolitan statistical areas in the U.S. with at least 100,000 residential properties, the highest zombie rates in the fourth quarter of 2021 in areas with at least 100 properties facing possible foreclosure are in Portland, OR (15.3 percent of properties in the foreclosure process are vacant); Wichita KS (15 percent); Cleveland, OH (11.7 percent); Fort Wayne, IN (11 percent) and Honolulu, HI (10.6 percent).
- Aside from Portland and Cleveland, the highest zombie-foreclosure rates in major metro areas with at least 500,000 residential properties and at least 100 properties facing foreclosure in the fourth quarter of 2021 are in Indianapolis, IN (9.3 percent of homes in the foreclosure process are vacant); Detroit, MI (8.8 percent) and Baltimore, MD (7.3 percent).
- Among the 27.1 million investor-owned homes throughout the U.S. in the fourth quarter of 2021, about 920,100, or 3.4 percent, are vacant. The highest levels of vacant investor-owned homes are in Indiana (6.8 percent), Tennessee (6 percent), Kansas (5.8 percent), Oklahoma (5.4 percent) and Ohio (5.1 percent).
- The highest zombie-foreclosure rates among counties with at least 500 properties in the foreclosure process during the fourth quarter of 2021 are in Cuyahoga County (Cleveland), OH (13.5 percent of pre-foreclosure homes are empty); Broome County (Binghamton), NY (12.5 percent); Onondaga County (Syracuse), NY (10.4 percent); Pinellas County (Clearwater), FL (9.8 percent) and St. Clair County, IL (outside St. Louis, MO) (7.7 percent).
- The lowest zombie rates among counties with at least 500 properties in foreclosure in the fourth quarter of 2021 are in Atlantic County (Atlantic City), NJ (0.3 percent of pre-foreclosure homes are empty); Mercer County (Trenton), NJ (0.5 percent); Alameda County (Oakland), CA (0.7 percent); Bergen County, NJ (outside New York City) (0.7 percent) and Morris County, NJ (outside New York City) (0.7 percent).
- Among 421 counties with at least 50,000 residential properties, those with the largest portion of total homes in zombie foreclosure status in the fourth quarter of 2021 are Broome County (Binghamton), NY (one of every 640 properties); Cuyahoga County (Cleveland), OH (one in 846); Suffolk County (eastern Long Island), NY (one in 1,238); Peoria County, IL (one in 1,288) and Albany County, NY (one in 1,390).
ATTOM analyzed county tax assessor data for about 99 million residential properties for vacancy, broken down by foreclosure status and, owner-occupancy status. Only metropolitan statistical areas with at least 100,000 residential properties and counties with at least 50,000 residential properties were included in the analysis.
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