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Tampa Bay has more zombies — of a certain kind — than most anywhere

Just in time for Halloween — Tampa Bay has plenty of zombies.

Not the reanimated corpses of Walking Dead, but vacant houses that are in some stage of foreclosure but that have not yet been repossessed by the bank.

According to ATTOM Data Solutions, the bay area is littered with 477 zombie foreclosures, ranking it fifth among the 150 largest metro regions. Only New York-Newark, Philadelphia, Chicago and Miami are more zombie-infested.

Nationwide, "zombie foreclosures have dwindled dramatically over the last four years as a supply-starved housing market has soaked up even some of the most highly distressed properties," Daren Blomquist, ATTOM's senior vice president, said in a release. "There are pockets of the country with high zombie foreclosure rates, and high vacant property rates in general, primarily in the Rust Belt and parts of the Northeast and Southeast."

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Hard hit by the housing crash, Tampa Bay's real estate market has bounced back in spectacular fashion with prices showing big increases over the past few years. But the area once had so many homes in foreclosure —15,000 new filings in Pinellas County alone in 2009 — that cases are still working their way through the court system. Many of those borrowers who defaulted have since moved on, leaving behind a comparatively large number of zombies.

A prime example: a zombie in St. Petersburg's Shore Acres neighborhood that first went into foreclosure in 2008. The borrower abandoned it and moved to Hernando County as foreclosure cases filed by two separate lenders dragged on. Early last year, he deeded the house to a Tampa company thinking — wrongly — that he would no longer be legally responsible for either the mortgage or the upkeep of the lawn.

That company let the house sit vacant and fall into an ever greater state of decrepitude before finally making some repairs and renting it out a few months ago. Though a zombie no longer, the house remains in foreclosure limbo.

Several blocks way is a current zombie that has been in foreclosure since 2009 and vacant for years. The three-bedroom, two bath waterfront home probably would sell quickly if the foreclosure case is ever resolved.

Throughout the Tampa Bay area, a total of 26,132 homes were vacant as of this fall, ATTOM reported. Many of those are owned by investors who are renovating them or already have them on the market. In Hillsborough County, for example, 4,427 of the 5,974 vacant homes are investor-owned.

Nationally, ''there is evidence that the ultra-tight inventory environment in some red-hot markets is beginning to ease just a bit, with vacant property rates nudging higher in markets such as San Jose, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston and Denver," Blomquist said.

In sharp contrast, 9 percent of U.S. ZIP code areas have no vacant residential properties — among them, 34110 in Naples where the median price of $357,800 is among the highest in Florida.

Contact Susan Taylor Martin at smartin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate

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