January 10, 2012

Everything Has Been Turned Upside Down

The Missoulian reports from Montana. “In 2011, 187 Bitterroot Valley residents officially lost their homes to foreclosure when trustee deeds were filed with the Ravalli County Clerk and Recorder. That was 19 more than were filed the previous year and double the number from 2009. ‘What’s happened is everything has been turned upside down,’ said Ravalli County Clerk of Court Regina Plettenberg. ‘For many of those people, their home isn’t worth now what they paid for it and they owe more than it’s worth. That makes it so they can’t refinance. Before 2007, it was rare to actually see someone lose their property. I could probably count on one hand how many we would see in a year.’”

“We’re seeing both the well-heeled and just the average, blue-collar worker being impacted,’ said First American Title Company manager Sherri Williams. ‘There is no cutting the sheets between the halves and halve nots. It’s like my dad used to tell me: Most of us are just one paycheck away from bankruptcy at all times.’”

The Idaho Statesman. “People go to pawnshops for many reasons, but they have been using the shops more since the economy started souring four years ago. As banks have tightened lending, home-equity loans have become scarcer and credit cards have blown past their upper limits, people have been turning to pawnshops for quick cash to make ends meet. ‘More affluent people are needing to borrow money,’ said Tim Birkle, co-owner of GNP of Idaho, which owns three Vista Pawn shops in Boise and Nampa, and Airman Pawn in Mountain Home.”

The Spokesman Review. “A Spokane bank has inherited large pieces of the shuttered Ridpath Hotel. A public foreclosure auction Friday in the lobby of the Spokane County Courthouse failed to earn any bids above the opening prices of $875,000 and $125,000 for two upper floors, leaving the parcels as property of RiverBank.”

“RiverBank forced the auction by filing a foreclosure action against Gregory Jeffreys, a Spokane man who has left a trail of debts across Spokane County and who is now at the center of lawsuits and investigations over multiple projects. Court records show RiverBank attempted to collect on development loans, as well as several other connections with him.”

“The lending relationship was among the problems that led federal banking regulators to demand RiverBank raise more capital. Attorneys, bankers and developers say they have not been able to find Jeffreys. He has skipped lawsuit depositions. He doesn’t answer or return phone messages, although he still owns an upscale Spokane Valley home with an assessed value of $666,000.”

“A Coeur d’Alene condominium project postponed three years ago when the economy faltered has resurfaced as a rental housing proposal geared toward workers with moderate incomes. Lake City Development Corp Executive Director Tony Berns said the urban renewal agency has been trying to add affordable housing units to Midtown for years. But, he said, ‘The world fell apart, economy-wise. The reason it’s got life right now is because they’ve redefined the project to be rentals. The only thing that seems to be working these days is rentals. Nobody’s building any condos.’”

KLCC in Oregon. “Federal funding for low-income rental assistance has not yet been appropriated by congress. But a Central Oregon agency is helping applicants with the process of getting on the waiting list. Housing Works provides services to low-income families in Crook, Deschutes and Jefferson Counties. Kenny LaPoint says Central Oregon’s housing boom went bust along with the economy, leading to a high foreclosure rate. ‘Many of those families that were in foreclosure, lost their homes, have gone into the rental market, and so our rental market has actually tightened up. And we’ve actually seen a bit of increase in rents here and it’s becoming tougher and tougher to find rental units.’”

Oregon Public Broadcasting. “Notices of default were down last year in Deschutes County. That’s the first yearly decline in four years. Kathy Ragsdale, CEO and President of the Central Oregon Association of Realtors, cautions the numbers may not mean the market is bouncing back. Some observers say the banks may be holding onto foreclosed properties, to keep from flooding the market and depressing prices further.”

“‘If they’re actually having less that they’re foreclosing on, that’s wonderful. But if there’s a backup inventory that we haven’t seen yet, we might not see that much of an inventory in the market until that inventory is depleted,’ Ragsdale said.”

KVAL in Oregon. “Nadine Powell said the house nextdoor in her downtown Eugene neighborhood used to be a beautiful home. Bank of America said the house is not technically foreclosed yet, but neighbors explained it’s been empty for months. The house has become more than an eyesore: Powell said it’s now potentially hazardous. ‘We’re really concerned about fire and possible gang activity.’”

“So what can neighbors do about these vacant homes? ‘The big thing is for the neighbors to be involved,’ explained Eugene real estate broker Marie Due. Dues said she can’t think of a neighborhood in the area without a foreclosure or short sale, and there are a few ways neighbors can take action. ‘Be the eyes and ears. If a house is vacant, you know it’s empty, and all of a sudden it looks like somebody’s in the house, call the police,’ said Due.”

“But as far as your own property value, Due said neighbors are basically stuck. ‘One of the things is that you’re not going to be able to do anything to help you with your value,’ said Due.”

The HeraldNet in Washington. “Snohomish County’s housing market closed out the last month of 2011 on the same projection as the past six months: home sales continued to rise while home prices declined. The median home price fell 9.3 percent to $222,750, down from $245,700 in December 2010. Fewer homes are coming on the market for sale and interest rates remain low — factors that give real estate brokers a positive outlook for 2012.”

“In December, 763 homes came on the market in Snohomish County. That’s down 28.4 percent from December 2010. The county’s housing supply is at about 3.2 months. For Seattle region, inventory is down 30 percent compared to a year ago. Despite rising sales, OB Jacobi, a member of the Northwest MLS board of directors, noted foreclosures and short sales continue to cause downward pressure on prices.”

“‘Many would-be sellers are still wary of the market, and as a result, there are fewer homes for sale,’ Jacobi said. ‘At the same time, there are buyers who are eager to strike while the iron is hot, so in some areas, homes are selling before many buyers even have a chance to react.’”

The Puget Sound Business Journal in Washington. “The median price for single family homes and condominiums in King County last month was $291,000, according to a new report by the Northwest MLS. That compares to a median price of $342,400 in December 2010. The number of single family homes and condominiums listed for sale was down more than 25 percent for the month, compared to the period a year ago. Meanwhile, the number of pending and closed sales was up for the period by 19.8 percent for pending sales and 4.1 percent for closed sales.”

“Southwest King County had the steepest decline in median sales price for the month, falling 27.15 percent to $163,000 from $223,750 in December the prior year. The decline was coupled with the county’s sharpest increase in the number of closed sales, with a 48.26 percent jump.”

From MSNBC. “When David Martin and his wife bought their north Seattle condo five years ago, they figured they had plenty of time to downsize if they needed to before they retired. Now, with the property worth roughly $60,000 less than the balance of their mortgage, Martin, 68, has been giving serious thought to just walking away, a process lenders call ’strategic default.’”

“‘Guilt and morality are one side, and objective financial analysis are on the other side,’ Martin said. ‘They’re coming to two opposite conclusions. I wonder how many other people are struggling with the same question.’”

“The government’s ineffective response to the housing crisis, even as it went to extraordinary lengths to backstop banks, has also propelled walkaways, say researchers. As home prices resume their fall, some homeowners believe lenders should bear at least a portion of the losses inflicted by a housing bust the industry helped create. ‘The money didn’t disappear,’ said Martin. ‘We still owe it to the bank, so the bank will end up getting all of its money back on a loan that no longer has its original value. They’re taking no part in the loss.’”

“For now, Martin is electing to stay in his home and continue paying the mortgage. ‘We intend to continue as we are on the basis that we gain nothing from acting at this point,’ he said in a note. ‘We think that the real estate market in Seattle will rise by 2013 enough to offer better alternatives. There is a small chance that the federal government will act to offer more rational choices. The real possibility is that the debt might be refinanced in 2013 at a level that might offer enough reduction in payments to allow us to hang on long enough to shore up our financial position.’”

Bits Bucket for January 10, 2012

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