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Foreclosures trending downward in Middle Georgia, the nation

Before the end of the great recession, foreclosures hit record highs in Bibb and Houston counties.

There were 762 foreclosures recorded in Bibb County Superior Court in 2008 and 334 recorded in Houston County.

The worst was yet to come. Even though the recession officially ended in summer 2009, the fallout continued.

In 2010, the number of foreclosures recorded in Bibb County reached 937 and 714 in Houston County.

But the good news is the number of foreclosures in both locations has been dropping over the past five years, somewhat following a national trend. Last year, 580 foreclosures were filed in Bibb County, and 419 were filed in Houston County.

“Foreclosures on a national level have been declining and in some markets more than others,” said Reginald Bell, executive director of HomeFirst Housing Resource Services in Macon. “Even in Macon and Bibb they have been trending downward but not at the same rate as the national rate.”

HomeFirst is a nonprofit agency created to help residents with homebuyer education services and programs.

Nationally, there were 39,000 completed foreclosures in February, down from 46,000 in February 2014, according to a news release from CoreLogic. This represented a drop of 67 percent from the peak of completed foreclosures in September 2010. CoreLogic is a global property information, analytics and data-enabled services provider.

Also, the number of mortgages that are seriously delinquent -- defined as those 90 days or more past due -- has declined by 19.3 percent from February last year to February this year, the release stated. This is the lowest delinquency rate since June 2008.

But even though the actual number of foreclosures in Middle Georgia is trending downward, they are still affecting families.

“What we are seeing is there are still a large number of families who are struggling to pay their mortgages, but that’s because they lost a job or went through some kind of financial difficulty, and they did not recover to the same level as they were before,” Bell said.

Some people who became unemployed during the recession may have found another job, but they had to take a significant cut in pay.

“That’s been our biggest issue -- the income instability of someone who used to make $20 bucks an hour (now) has a job that pays $10 an hour or less,” he said.

But one thing that may be helping the decline in foreclosures is that more mortgage lenders are willing to work with homeowners, such as offering loan modifications to help keep the family in their home, he said.

“(Homeowners) have to do what makes economic sense,” Bell said. “Sometimes it makes economic sense to surrender the house. Sometimes it makes more economic sense to just stay.”

The first thing people should do if they are struggling to make their mortgage payment is to contact their lender, he said.

The lender may offer a loan modification or a reduction of the principal to help the homeowner stay in the home.

“Even if you are unemployed, there is help available,” Bell said.

HOME VALUES ARE RISING

Tom Wilson, president of Wilson & Hall Inc., a Macon-based appraisal company, said he has been noticing the decline in the number of foreclosures in Middle Georgia.

Wilson, who has been an appraiser since 1988, writes a weekly column for The Telegraph. He handles mostly single-family residential properties.

“Just like the rest of the country, when everything went down real fast, we went down at a slower pace,” he said. “Now they are going up real fast, and we are going up at a slower pace. But I think that’s healthy for our industry.”

One encouraging sign that foreclosures are on the decline is that his company is doing more new construction appraisals.

Between 2010 and 2013, he did very few construction appraisals because there were too many new homes that had been foreclosed on already sitting vacant in the market.

Also home values are increasing, he said.

“It’s at a moderate rate, but we were at rock bottom for awhile, and now we are on our way back up,” Wilson said.

A few years ago, when he did an appraisal for a buyer, many times the appraisal of the home would be less than the selling price. That’s because he had to use comparable sales of homes in the area and quite often had to use the sale prices of foreclosures -- which are usually below market value -- in his appraisals.

Before the recession, foreclosures might have made up about 5 percent of sales in a neighborhood, he said. During the recession it was not unusual for foreclosures to make up to about 75 percent of sales. That’s when foreclosures became competition for traditional home sales.

“You’re not supposed to use foreclosures in an appraisal -- because they are an anomaly of the market,” Wilson said. “But when the downturn happened they became the market. ... That is your competition.

“Foreclosures aren’t the competition like they used to be. They are still out there, but there are a lot less, and they don’t dominate the market.”

To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223.

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