Clark County foreclosures hit four-year low

But expert says local high jobless rate may stall recovery

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter

Published:

 

September foreclosures in Clark County

2012 — 226

2011 — 246

2010 — 435

2009 — 327

2008 — 144

Source: RealtyTrac Inc.

Home foreclosure activity dropped to a four-year low in Clark County in September, a steep 41 percent decline from the previous month, but only an 8 percent decrease from the same month last year.

Experts say the roller-coaster pattern could continue as the area's sluggish job market puts pressure on struggling homeowners while a 2011 state law has forced mortgage lenders to work with delinquent homeowners. The mediation law has merely slowed down the process, but hasn't necessarily saved scads of homeowners from losing their houses, said Neal McKeever, a mortgage foreclosure counselor with the nonprofit Community Housing Resource Center in Vancouver.

"Now, they (lenders) have to go through a process" before foreclosure, he said.

The number of Clark County homes in foreclosure in September dropped to a total of 226, down from 249 foreclosures in the same month last year, according to California-based RealtyTrac Inc. Countywide foreclosures also declined for the month, down from 383 homes in August.

McKeever said he hasn't seen the decline play out at the housing resource center, which continues to see a steady stream of clients seeking counseling. The center offers an orientation class every Thursday evening that brings in between 10 and 15 sets of homeowners each week, McKeever said.

"We're seeing some pretty decent numbers," he said.

McKeever suspects Clark County's foreclosure rate could go higher, based on the area's high unemployment rate.

"We're still suffering from a very weak economy," he said, adding that the county could be in the process of building up a shadow inventory of houses still being lived in by delinquent borrowers.

"Mr. Smith living next to you could still be fixing the fence and mowing the lawn, though he hasn't made a payment in over a year," McKeever said.

But some real estate brokers disagree, saying Clark County has likely gone through most of its shadow inventory with steadily improving home sales and values that have inched up since the start of the year.

"Almost 20 percent of our inventory of listings are short sales with offers," said Mike Lamb, a broker with Vancouver-based Windermere Real Estate Stellar Group.

He reasoned those listings would be part of the shadow inventory of foreclosures if the banks weren't moving forward to negotiate a short sale.

"I just don't see that much shadow inventory out there any more," Lamb said, adding that it has been more of an issue in highly speculative national markets such as Las Vegas. "I think we've flushed through a lot of this because we went through it earlier."