Getting a handle on Watertown’s ‘zombie,’ distressed homes


Getting a handle on Watertown’s ‘zombie,’ distressed homes

pWATERTOWN — City Assessor Brian S. Phelps acknowledges it’s difficult to gauge what’s happening with those so-called “zombie homes” in the city because it can take a few years before banks finally file foreclosure proceedings./ppBut Mr. Phelps recently learned about a national real estate website that can help keep better track of “zombie” homes — properties that people have stopped paying their mortgages on and have moved out because they expect the bank to begin foreclosure — in the city./ppThe website, www.realtytrac.com, provides listings of pre-foreclosed properties for communities across the country. /ppThe online database seems to be geared specifically for investors who would like to purchase distressed homes at low prices and then flip them to make large profits when they are sold, Mr. Phelps said. /ppThe RealtyTrac website could help the assessor’s office fulfill a recent request by Mayor Joseph M. Butler to put together a list of zombie, vacant and foreclosed on properties./pp“It looks like it could be helpful,” he said, adding he wants to find out more about the online service. “We’ll definitely look at it.”/ppFull access to the site requires purchasing a $49.95 monthly subscription entitling users to more detailed information about 1.2 million properties across the country, but there are seven-day free trials that provide a snapshot./ppWhile it provides advice for buying foreclosures to investors, the website could come in handy in keeping track of just how many abandoned properties exist in Watertown at a given time, Mr. Phelps said./ppThe website currently lists about 200 pre-foreclosed properties, although it appears that some property owners have been notified the bank has filed a claim or lawsuit against them. /ppIt also lists foreclosures and bank-owned, auctioned and sold properties and lists when auctions are held in the city. It shows photos of the properties and provides property profiles that contain such detailed information as owners’ names, how much is owed on the property, the year the house was built and the number of bathrooms./ppHowever, some critics complain the website includes inaccurate or old information and that it’s difficult to stop the paid subscriptions. There are also similar websites that provide that kind of data./ppMr. Phelps checked out a listing on Olive Street, which included an estimated value of $83,000 for the 135-year-old single-family home. But that amount seemed high for the five-bedroom house, he said. After looking at the house on the city’s website, he learned the house has a tentative assessment of $45,500. /ppWhile zombie properties continue to be a topic of conversation, it’s already easier for his office to keep track of foreclosed properties, he said./ppNationally, foreclosures seemed to hit a peak last year, but the problem continues with the local housing market. Mr. Phelps noticed this past week that five of the 25 latest property transactions in Watertown involved foreclosed homes in February./ppThe most recent Watertown foreclosed homes are: 921 Mill St.; 720 Lillian St.; 244 Clinton St.; 630 Bronson Ave.; and 936 Superior St., according to the Jefferson County Clerk’s office./ppHe was unsure why so many foreclosures occurred this month, saying that the trend could just be peaking now or the state’s lengthy foreclosures process could be catching up with the situation./pp“It just seems like they were just waiting for the ax to fall for a while,” Mr. Phelps said. /ppIn recent months, city officials and council members have been discussing ways to handle various housing issues that have plagued the city in recent years./ppLast week, council members unanimously agreed to bring back a program to rehabilitate houses that the city acquires through unpaid taxes or from banks that want to unload them so they donate them to the city./ppThe city will work with Neighbors of Watertown Inc. and the Development Authority of the North Country on the program, which went dormant about a decade ago. Mayor Butler also asked DANC to help the city put together a comprehensive housing strategy for the city./ppHe also has suggested that the city collect a list of contacts from banks city officials could call when an issue occurs involving a troublesome house./ppAnd Councilman Stephen A. Jennings continues to work on establishing a rental inspection program for the city. He hopes to introduce his ideas next month./p
Source: Watertown Daily Times Latest News
Getting a handle on Watertown’s ‘zombie,’ distressed homes

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