Clark County foreclosures fall; remain at high level

2011 saw a 25 percent dip from the previous year

By Courtney Sherwood, Columbian freelance writer



Clark County Foreclosures

Housing units in some stage of foreclosure

2011: 2,696

2010: 3,589

2009: 3,868

2008: 2,541

2007: 1,274

2006: 672

Source: RealtyTrac

Clark County foreclosures dropped by 25 percent in 2011, though homeowners continued to run into trouble at far greater rates than before housing prices began to slide in 2006, according to a report issued Wednesday.

With one in every 61 housing units threatened by a default notice, auction or bank repossession last year, Clark was the third-most foreclosed-upon county in the state, behind Snohomish and Pierce. One in 69 housing units nationwide faced foreclosure in 2011, and one in 84 across Washington, according to RealtyTrac, a California-based source of real estate data.

Legal wrangling, slow proceedings and a shifting economic environment make it difficult to predict what will happen in 2012, but many experts expect that foreclosure rates will remain at higher-than-normal levels.

Layoffs and skyrocketing unemployment contributed to the initial surge in foreclosures, and many families hurt during the 2007-2008 recession have already lost their homes.

Some companies are still cutting jobs, and lean government budgets have also led to public sector layoffs, but private sector employment is climbing and far fewer local people face personal financial crises than a few years back. The unemployment rate is dropping across the U.S. and in Clark County — falling from about 13 percent to about 11 percent locally over the course of the year.

Yet local and national housing markets remain challenged.

RealtyTrac reported that 2,696 Clark County households faced the loss of a home in 2011, up fourfold since 2006, even if it is an improvement from the two previous years.

“Nearly 30 percent of all mortgages are currently underwater, meaning that borrowers owe more than the homes are worth,” John C. Williams, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, said in a speech he delivered Tuesday in Vancouver. “The housing market is mired in a historical state of depression. We still see millions of homes in foreclosure, and millions more on the verge.”

In Clark County, the median home sale price dropped from $200,000 to $186,000,

according to figures from RMLS, a regional listing service.

That’s left many homeowners with limited options when they run into financial trouble — selling or refinancing a house valued at less than its outstanding mortgage is a challenge that few overcome.

Brandon Moore, chief executive officer of RealtyTrac, said it’s possible that foreclosures will tick up again in 2012. Many were postponed last year by lenders facing legal challenges or struggling to meet documentation requirements, he said.

“There were strong signs in the second half of 2011 that lenders are finally beginning to push through some of the delayed foreclosures in select local markets,” Moore said. “We expect that trend to continue this year, boosting foreclosure activity through 2012 higher than it was in 2011, though still below the peak of 2010.”

Williams said that there’s some hope that a new federal initiative to help financially burdened homeowners will help.

The revamped Home Affordable Refinance Program aims to help underwater property owners lower their mortgage payments by refinancing at lower interest rates, even if banks don’t consider them risk-worthy. Two previous federal efforts failed to make much of a dent in foreclosure rates, however, and it’s too early to assess whether this effort will be more successful.