From the Record:
On Wilson Avenue in Wayne, a shady street of well-kept homes, the wood contemporary at No. 96 stands out. It’s been empty for years, thick moss grows on the roof and, neighbors say, water from a broken pipe flooded the interior and poured down the street several years ago.
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.
Visits to 10 vacant homes in middle-income North Jersey neighborhoods recently turned up places with cracked windows, fallen tree limbs, weeds growing through cracks in driveways, ragged shrubs and usually a notice glued to the front door — often from the property maintenance company hired by the lender. Many smell of mildew, signaling water damage inside. (However, most of the lawns had obviously been mowed.)
The number of zombie houses in New Jersey is higher than the national average because the state is still working through a backlog of distressed properties heading into foreclosure. According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, in the first quarter of this year, New Jersey led the nation in foreclosure starts as it continued to deal with the fallout of the housing crash. About 11.5 percent of New Jersey mortgages were either in foreclosure or late on payments in the quarter, compared with 6.5 percent nationwide.
New Jersey has been slower than the rest of the nation to get through the foreclosure crisis because here, as in about half of states, foreclosures go through the courts, which slows the process. New Jersey’s pipeline was further slowed about five years ago when state courts required the mortgage industry to answer accusations of trampling homeowners’ rights in the rush to evict.
These forlorn houses stand out among the neighboring homes, which are usually carefully maintained. Neighbors find them disheartening.