Clark County foreclosures drop sharply

Experts says shorter process may hasten local housing recovery

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter

Published:

 

For all the troubles in Clark County’s housing market, this Washington community is at least doing a better job digging out of the foreclosure muck and mire than many other areas of the country.

New laws designed to slow the foreclosure process down have created backlogs of troubled homes in some states where the court system handles foreclosures, according to an analysis in Wednesday’s issue of USA Today.

Experts here, however, say a shorter process in Washington could speed up the housing market’s recovery in Clark County, where foreclosures don’t go through the courts.

A report released Thursday showed the number of homes in foreclosure continued to decline in Clark County and across the state in October, compared with the same month last year. Countywide, 279 homes were in some stage of foreclosure in October, down 47 percent from the 527 houses in the same month last year, according to California-based RealtyTrac, which tracks real estate data. Meanwhile, home sales improved for the third consecutive month in September, according to Benchmarks, a data tracking service based in Van

couver. The statewide foreclosure rate also shrank by 58 percent to one out of every 1,049 homes.

Washington state law could be moving things along, despite a national report this week predicting it would take more than eight years to sell off a surplus of 2.1 million foreclosed homes across the United States.

“The states with the longest foreclosure time lines are New York, New Jersey and Florida,” said Daren Blomquist, a spokesman for RealtyTrac.

For example, Blomquist said New York’s foreclosure timeline is a whopping 986 days, compared with the national average of 336 days.

“In Washington state, it takes 153 days on average to foreclose,” Blomquist said.

“Most people I know think the quicker you get it over with, the quicker the market recovers,” said Mike Lamb, a real estate broker with Windermere Real Estate Stellar Group in Vancouver.

Lamb said the non-judicial procedure cuts down on red tape and enables homes to be sold about five months after the first default notice.

As a result, it’s possible to move the homes out of distress, said Scott Mikel, a Vancouver broker and owner of Scott Mikel & Associates.

“The whole objective is to get the (housing) inventory back into the hands of people to live in because an empty, foreclosed house is not good for anybody in the community,” Mikel said.

Jobs still a factor

Other real estate experts predict home sales will continue to drag as double-digit unemployment continues to take its toll on Clark County.

“It was the people who lost their jobs that lost the ability to pay for their homes. Those are the people who ended up in foreclosure,” said Terry Wollam, an agent with Re/Max Equity Group and president of the Clark County Association of Realtors.

Strategic plans to boost jobs abound among elected officials and economic development groups, although nothing has gained much traction so far.

“There are signs that there could be something on the horizon, but most of the things I’m reading are three to five years out,” Mikel said.

Lamb said he sees hopeful signs in Clark County’s housing market, including the recent uptick in sales.

However, the countywide glut of foreclosed properties and short sales were part of the lure, driving down September’s median sales price — half sold for more, half for less — to $185,000 for all new and existing houses sold in Clark County. It was down 13.3 percent from the median of $213,500 in the same month last year.