While real estate professionals would like to see more homes for sale across Middle Georgia, things are improving, and there is a bright spot in the industry.
Foreclosures have been declining steadily since 2010.
"It's kind of becoming what it's supposed to be," said Tom Wilson, president of Wilson & Hall, a residential and commercial appraisal service.
It's been more than six years since the Great Recession officially ended during the summer of 2009, and the next year a record number of foreclosures flooded the markets in Bibb and Houston counties.
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In 2010, 937 foreclosures were recorded in Bibb County Superior Court and 714 in Houston County. It helped depress the real estate market and tainted appraised values of traditional homes for sale.
By 2013, the number of foreclosures had dropped to 771 in Bibb County and 565 in Houston. Last year, the numbers fell to 430 in Bibb and 330 in Houston -- less than half what it was five years earlier in both areas.
"Values are definitely increasing, ... and it's helped sales," Wilson said. "(Foreclosures) are not holding anything back anymore."
When the number of foreclosures was up, it was not unusual for foreclosures to make up to about 80 percent of sales in some neighborhoods.
When foreclosure sales -- which are typically below market value -- are such a big part of the real estate mix, they are competing with traditional home sales and bring down comparable sale prices.
That's not happening so much anymore.
"It is the exception ... that we don't meet sales price," said Wilson, who writes a weekly appraisal column for The Telegraph.
Nationwide, foreclosures also are down.
The number of completed foreclosures decreased year over year to 38,000 in January from 46,000 in January 2015, according to report by CoreLogic, a global property and analytics provider. The number of completed foreclosures in January was down 67.6 percent from the peak of 117,743 in September 2010.
Also, the number of people who are seriously delinquent on their mortgages in January was the lowest in eight years, the report said.
Brian Mushaney, executive vice president of data solutions at Realty Trac, said in Servicing Management magazine recently that the U.S. housing market "is definitely brighter. ... In 2016, we'll see the foreclosure tide continue to recede and the return of a more 'normal' real estate market." The magazine is geared toward loan-servicing professionals.
Those people who were struggling to pay their mortgage during the downturn and were able to hang on "and recapture some income" managed to avoid foreclosure, said Reginald Bell, executive director of HomeFirst Housing Resource Services Inc. in Macon.
But of course, some people are still struggling to pay their mortgage. Some of those people might have been able to initially avoid foreclosure with loan modification or through other assistance, but as their income has not come back, "they are not able to sustain," Bell said.
"So we're seeing folks who were making $15-$20 an hour, and they are (now) making $8-$10 an hour," he said. "We are talking about low- to moderate-income folks. Those folks are having the hardest time because those jobs are not here. It doesn't mean they aren't coming," but they are not available right now.
Certain ZIP codes in Macon have a higher number of foreclosures than others. Based on Bell's latest report, from November 2014 through October 2015, there were 193 foreclosures in the 31204 ZIP code, a mixed-income area. Some other ZIP codes and the number of foreclosures are: 31206, 169 foreclosures; 31210, 135 foreclosures; and 31220, 118 foreclosures. All told, 31216 and 31217 came in at 96 foreclosures each.
Most all lenders have programs to help people with their mortgage, Bell said. While the Home First Subsidy Program was slow to roll out in Georgia, some of the early restrictions were eased, and it's "really good at helping folks get payment assistance," he said. "We are begging people to apply."
But people have to provide a lot of paperwork, and it takes about 90 days to get approved.
"It's an exhaustive process," he said. "But you've got someone like us holding your hand to get through it, so it's not that difficult.
"It's unnecessary for someone to lose their home. They have to work hard at losing it to foreclosure. The biggest problem is that people wait too long to seek help."
'MARKET IS COMING BACK'
Don Blair, broker/owner of the Real Estate Professionals real estate firm in Macon, said 2016 is expected to be a good year for residential real estate.
"I'm noticing a trend of declining foreclosures ... because the real estate market is coming back," Blair said.
While some people may think that most all foreclosed homes are in depressed neighborhoods or that they are not in good condition, that's not necessarily the case.
Blair has a house listed for sale at 223 Northwest Pointe Drive in Macon that's been foreclosed on by Fannie Mae, also known as the Federal National Mortgage Association. The three-bedroom, two-bath home with about 1,860 square feet of space on more than 1 acre is listed at $144,000. The tax value is $182,452, according to the Bibb County Tax Assessor's Office website.
Last week, the Middle Georgia Multiple Listing Service showed 80 homes for sale as foreclosures. They ranged in price from the $144,000 listing Blair has down to $19,900.
Homes on the list include a three-bedroom, one-bath cottage with about 1,500 square feet at 341 Buford Place to a spacious two-story, five-bedroom, four-bath house with about 3,500 square feet at 1119 Adams St.
Martha Parden, a real estate agent with Sheridan Solomon & Associates in Macon, agreed that she's not seeing as many foreclosures in the marketplace, and it's reflected in the appraisals.
"From what I'm hearing from bankers, the appraisals are up," Parden said. "Many of the appraisals are coming in above the purchase price."
But she and other agents are seeing a different issue.
"Our inventory (of houses for sale) is very low," said Parden, who has been an agent since 2005. "There are a lot of buyers out there, and they don't have very much to choose from. ... I'm wondering if they are waiting for the prime sales cycle, which runs from April to August. ... We're hoping that's what they are doing."
To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223.