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Battling Zombie Homes . . . and Plywood

abandoned-houseSo-called “zombie homes” are a widespread problem facing anyone working to combat urban blight still lingering after the housing crisis and the Great Recession. In a new article by the Long Island Business News [1], Robert Klein, Founder and Chairman of Safeguard Properties and SecureView, discussed the problem of—and possible solutions to—zombie homes.

One way to deal with zombie homes is to fast-track forclosures. Fast-track foreclosure laws are already on the books in Ohio [2] and Maryland, with states such as Illinois, Pennsylvania, and New York possibly following suit. In part three of a three-part series earlier this year, Klein told DS News [3], "It’s all about keeping people in their homes as long as possible, but, once abandoned, a house becomes a liability. Fast-tracking enables the mortgage servicer to get possession of the property before it deteriorates. This directly leads to on-time conveyance and faster rehab and sale.”

But if fast-tracking a foreclosure isn't an option, what then?

In June 2016, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo set up a consumer hotline to take reports of zombie properties, of which there are an estimated 6,000 within the state of New York alone. According to a yearlong Newsday analysis [4], vacant properties cost Long Island at least $295 million in depreciated home values. Assemblyman James Skoufis (D-Orange County) introduced legislation banning the use of plywood to board up abandoned properties. Skoufis told the Long Island Business News, “When you have unsightly strips of plywood, it becomes an issue for all of the neighbors. It becomes a safety issue. It’s a big neon sign saying no-one lives here. It’s also a property value issue.”

While plywood had traditionally been a cheap and easy solution for securing abandoned properties, it has never been a particularly effective one. Now, however, there are more effective—and less unsightly—options, such as polycarbonate. Traditionally used in airplane windows, polycarbonate can also be used in lieu of plywood, a process known as “clearboarding.”

“We had a foreclosure crisis. Now we’re going through a blight crisis,” said Klein. “When you put up clear polycarbonate, it’s much more secure. It does not look like a vacant property. It looks like an occupied property.”

According to SecureView [5], a company that markets polycarbonate, clearboarding a home typically costs around twice what it would cost to secure a house with plywood, including labor. However, the polycarbonate is considerably more durable and doesn’t make it as apparent that the property is vacant.

The move away from plywood has been coming for a while now. In November 2016, Fannie Mae announced [6] it would allow mortgage servicers to use clearboarding on vacant homes in pre-foreclosure. In January 2017, Ohio Governor John Kasich signed off [7] on a law banning the use of plywood on vacant properties.

You can read more of DS News' interview with Robert Klein in parts one [8] and two [9] of our three-part series from earlier this year.