Shawn O’Brien stood outside the property in the unit block of Willow Drive in Northfield. The attached garage door had a hole exposing the inside of the property, the paint around the trim of the front windows was chipped and the exterior of the home needed a fresh coat of paint.
O’Brien is the operating principal for Keller Williams Realty Atlantic Shore and works with foreclosed properties throughout Atlantic County.
“The good thing is we’re selling them very fast. I think it’s because buyers are realizing that they are a great opportunity,” he said.
Atlantic City’s metropolitan area, which includes all of Atlantic County, still leads the nation in foreclosure activity, according to ATTOM Data Solutions. Its RealtyTrac division publishes national foreclosure figures dating to 2006. The county has held that dubious distinction for most of the last four years.
One in 150 housing units in the metro area received some type of foreclosure filing in the third quarter of 2017, according to ATTOM. But that’s a big improvement over the third-quarter 2016, when one in 106 housing units received some type of foreclosure filing.
Trenton is second in the nation, with one in 234 units getting some type of foreclosure notice in third-quarter 2017.
Karen Tibbitt lives next door to the vacant home. She has lived in the neighborhood for 18 years and said despite a few renters, she hasn’t seen someone own the home for more than a decade.
“(There are a) lot of home foreclosures taking place and a lot of houses falling down around us that have not been maintained,” Tibbitt said. “There are so many of them that they aren’t being maintained, and everybody in the area feels the same.”
But those vacant homes are slowly finding new owners, real estate professionals say.
“The comeback is underway. We’re bottomed out and just starting to come back up,” said Jim Schroeder III, of the Schroeder Law Group in Hammonton and Cedar Creek Realty in Egg Harbor City.
He said it’s a block-by-block — sometimes house-by-house — micro-market, with harder-hit communities taking longer to recover than places such as Hammonton, where the real estate downturn was less severe.
“Some properties have sustained such damage they are going to have to be torn down,” due to vandalism, leaking pipes and mold, Schroeder said.
“But homes in salvageable condition are starting to move,” he said.
According to ATTOM, home sales for the third quarter of 2017 slowed from the third quarter a year ago, but the median sales price fell only slightly, from $150,000 last year to $147,500 this year.
Median sales prices of bank-owned properties went from $67,100 in the third quarter of last year to $66,126 this year.
“The demand is there, even though we have a high amount of inventory (of foreclosed homes),” O’Brien said.
Atlantic County shares many of the same economic struggles as the rest of the nation, but also has some unique to this area.
“There was at least a double whammy, if not a triple whammy, against Atlantic County, and because of the New Jersey foreclosure process, you have a big backlog of foreclosures since the last housing crisis in New Jersey,” said Daren Blomquist, senior vice president with ATTOM.
Besides the housing crisis, local workers were affected by the closing of casinos and thus a loss of jobs that could have triggered foreclosures. The third whammy, Blomquist said, was Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
“When someone’s home is damaged and close to destroyed, there may not be a lot of interest to keep paying mortgages for those homes,” Blomquist said.