As New Jersey heads toward the fall, its rate of so-called "zombie" foreclosures is trending well below the national average, and the Garden State is one of just a few in the U.S. where foreclosure activity fell from July to August, according to ATTOM Data Solutions.

Rick Sharga, executive vice president of the ATTOM company RealtyTrac, said the third-quarter national zombie rate as compared to all pre-foreclosure properties was about 3.5%, while New Jersey checks in around 1.5%.

"New Jersey is actually doing better than the country is overall when it comes to vacant properties and what we call 'zombie properties,' which are vacant properties that are in some stage of foreclosure," Sharga said.

A federal foreclosure moratorium put in place at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic expired over the summer, but a certain portion of New Jerseyans remain protected through Dec. 31.

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That is why Sharga does not expect a sudden onrush of foreclosures in New Jersey, in part because the state handles its foreclosures through the court system, which he said remains backlogged in general.

Additionally, many properties here have already been in the foreclosure process for quite some time, and for some zombies, that process did continue even despite the moratoriums.

"There were a limited number of foreclosure actions taking place on properties that were vacant and abandoned. Those properties are normally a safety hazard, and they're more of a safety hazard when you're dealing with a global pandemic," Sharga said. "I think New Jersey's probably going to be one of the last states in the country to see an increased level of overall foreclosure activity."

Among counties nationwide with at least 500 properties in foreclosure in the third quarter, New Jersey claimed three of the five lowest zombie rates, in Bergen (0.6%), Atlantic (0.5%), and Mercer (0.4%).

Some other Jersey counties do have a zombie percentage significantly higher than the state or even the national average, but in general, not close to the highest-in-the-nation 13.3% in Cuyahoga County, Ohio.

"Sussex County has a little over 5% of the homes that are in foreclosure that are vacant and abandoned those zombie properties," Sharga said, also singling out Essex County.

But overall, Sharga predicts that foreclosure activity will not reach pre-pandemic, or "normal" levels, until sometime in 2022 at the earliest.

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