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The Rise of Vacant Zombie Foreclosures

Zombie foreclosures are on the rise in the U.S., according to property data provider ATTOM…

  • September 24, 2020

Zombie foreclosures are on the rise in the U.S., according to property data provider ATTOM Data Solutions. These are situations where a property is left vacant by a home owner who incorrectly believes the lender becomes responsible for the place the minute a foreclosure notice is issued.

According to ATTOM Data Solutions’ just-released third-quarter 2020 Vacant Property and Zombie Foreclosure Report, 1.5 million (1,570,265) residential properties in the United States are vacant, representing 1.6 percent of all homes.

The report analyzes publicly recorded real estate data collected by ATTOM Data Solutions — including foreclosure status, equity, and owner-occupancy status — matched against monthly updated vacancy data.

The third quarter analysis shows that about 216,000 homes are in the process of foreclosure, with about 7,960, or 3.7 percent, sitting empty as so-called ‘zombie foreclosures.’

The count of properties in the process of foreclosure (215,886) in the third quarter of 2020 is down 16 percent from the second quarter of 2020 (258,024).

But the percentage of those properties that have been abandoned as zombie foreclosures is up from 3 percent in the second quarter of 2020.

Despite the increase, the 7,961 zombie foreclosure properties continue to represent just a tiny portion – one of every 12,500 homes – of the nation’s stock of 99.4 million residential properties.

The third-quarter 2020 data shows a drop in the number of homes at some point in the foreclosure process, but an increase in the level sitting vacant at a time when the federal government is trying to shield the housing market from an economic slide stemming from the worldwide Coronavirus pandemic.

Among the government’s key measures is a temporary prohibition against lenders foreclosing on government-backed mortgages.

The ban, which is set to expire on August 31, 2020, and affects about 70 percent of home loans in the United States, was enacted under the CARES Act passed by Congress in March of this year and then extended to help borrowers who have lost jobs or other sources of income during the pandemic.

“Abandoned homes in foreclosure remain little more than a spot on the radar screen in most parts of the United States, posing few, if any, problems from neighborhood to neighborhood. But the latest numbers do throw a small potential red flag into the air, given the increase in the percentage of zombie foreclosures,” said Todd Teta, chief product officer with ATTOM Data Solutions.

Midwest and South have highest zombie foreclosures rates

A total of 7,961 residential properties facing possible foreclosure have been vacated by their owners nationwide in the third quarter of 2020. That figure comprises 3.7 percent, or one in 27, of all properties in the foreclosure process. Those numbers are up from 3 percent, or one in 34, in the second quarter of 2020, and 3.2 percent, or one in 32, in the third quarter of last year.

States where zombie-foreclosure rates exceeding the national percentage are clustered in the Midwest and South, including Kansas (15 percent, or one in seven, properties in the foreclosure process), Missouri (11.2 percent, or one in nine), Georgia (11 percent, or one in nine), Kentucky (10.7 percent, or one in nine) and Tennessee (10.3 percent, or one in 10).

States where the rates fall below the national level are mainly in the Northeast and West, including Utah (1.1 percent, or one in 87 properties in the foreclosure process), Idaho (1.2 percent, or one in 84), New Jersey (1.6 percent, or one in 62), Colorado (1.8 percent, or one in 56) and California (2 percent, or one in 50).

Zombie rates rise in all but one state

Zombie-foreclosure rates rose from the second to the third quarter of 2020 in every state but Hawaii, while also decreasing in the District of Columbia.

States with the largest increases included Kansas (up from 7.4 percent to 15 percent of all properties in the foreclosure process), Missouri (up from 4 percent to 11.2 percent), Georgia (up from 3.9 percent to 11 percent), Kentucky (up from 3.9 percent to 10.7 percent) and Nebraska (up from 4 percent to 10.3 percent).