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3:42 AM Mon, Oct. 22nd

‘Zombie’ homes sucking value from local neighborhoods

Welcome to this zombie home on Sunrise Avenue, with a zombie car jacked up outside. It comes with fully furnished rooms and a partial wardrobe, barbed wire fencing in case someone tries to break in and a pile of trash ready for repurposing. Those broken windows are part of the heating and air conditioning system.

Photo by Hubble Ray Smith.

Welcome to this zombie home on Sunrise Avenue, with a zombie car jacked up outside. It comes with fully furnished rooms and a partial wardrobe, barbed wire fencing in case someone tries to break in and a pile of trash ready for repurposing. Those broken windows are part of the heating and air conditioning system.

They’re known as “zombie” houses, abandoned and foreclosed homes across the nation that are unoccupied, unwanted and dragging down neighborhood property values.

Vandals break into the homes and use them as gang headquarters and drug dens, spray-painting the walls with graffiti, ripping up carpet and tearing apart doors and windows. Squatters take over the place, living there without the homeowner’s permission or knowledge.

It’s a problem across the nation, especially in areas depressed by the housing crisis. Good luck if you want to sell your house that’s next to one of these zombie houses, or even a block or two away.

Mohave County Assessor Jeanne Kentch said there’s no formula to calculate how much an abandoned house devalues the property next door, but there’s definitely an effect from “adverse conditions” that detract from the overall value of a neighborhood.

“We haven’t referred to them as ‘zombie’ houses, but it sounds good,” Kentch said Thursday from Phoenix where she was attending a Department of Revenue commission meeting. “There is an issue in regards to that. It’s a lot of things, not just the housing crash. It’s aging, too, and the way a community changes.”

Mohave County has a 150-year history going back to mining and railroad days, and a lot of the shacks built during that time are still standing, or at least remnants of them, Kentch noted.

Some areas are worse than others, like Colorado City and the Birdland area of Kingman, but zombie houses can also be found in the middle of the desert, far from populated cities.

Mohave County is doing its best to get some of those homes sold off, or demolished and removed from the property.

87 DANGEROUS & UNHEALTHY BUILDINGS

In his May 7 presentation to Mohave County Board of Supervisors, Development Services Director Tim Walsh laid out an abatement plan for dangerous and unhealthy buildings.

The county has identified 87 homes and notified the owners that liens would be placed on their properties. Fifteen cases have been closed and nine are in the process of closing, he said.

“What qualifies as a dangerous building? Generally if it’s unsafe or unfit for human habitation, the likelihood to collapse,” Walsh said.

While there is no definitive research on how much zombie houses affect market prices, the main issue is the corresponding loss of value for neighboring homes, as well as the cost for municipalities to maintain the property.

On average, each foreclosure lowers the price of a house on the same block by about 1 percent, according to a study from the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University.

Harris Beach Legal Alert reported an estimated 107 “zombie” homes in Westchester County, New York, in January 2016, which decreased neighboring property values by $10.8 million.

The county assesses property values based on a mass approach of current market sales, Kentch said. Having a lot of zombie houses in one area is definitely going to affect those property values, she added.

“There’s a dollar impact associated with adverse conditions, but how it’s going to feel the dollar impact is through market sales,” she said.

At the peak of the foreclosure crisis, four out of five abandoned homes were foreclosures, said Karyn Lacy, a certified home appraiser for Woods Appraisal Services in Kingman. Now it’s one in five.

“Honestly, we don’t see those anymore and I don’t hear the term ‘zombie’ house, not like when the market crashed and 75 percent of our business was that kind of work,” Lacy said.

ZOMBIES HARD TO REMOVE

Home appraisals depend on the ratio of foreclosed homes in that particular neighborhood and varies with each neighborhood, and right now, there aren’t that many out there, she added.

Typically, appraisers don’t see a “zombie” house until it’s been purchased and renovated by an investor who wants to know the new value, Lacy said.

“It’s going to affect marketability. It’s going to affect the resale,” she said.

The government launched a number of initiatives to resolve the foreclosure crisis and remove “zombie” houses from the market, including the Neighborhood Revitalization Program to help homebuyers afford a fixer-upper.

Zombie homes didn’t come out overnight, and won’t go away when the sun rises.

But assessor Kentch is glad to see the county taking steps to resolve the problem.

“It’s going to be a very long process,” she said. “Even if you put a lien on it, or move a home off the parcel, it costs a considerable amount to do that. One home can be $10,000. Can we afford that? How much do we want to spend to keep values up in the rest of the county?

“It’s definitely something we can’t be saddled with and keep pushing under the rug. We want people to come here and bring their families here.”