Metro Atlanta’s foreclosure tide continues to recede, with the number of new notices filed in September near a 7-year low.
The latest report moved one housing industry expert to declare the end of a crisis that left the housing market awash in bargain-basement homes and pulled down home values for all.
“The worst is certainly behind us,” said Eugene James, Atlanta regional director of the housing information company Metrostudy. “I think the coast is clear.”
The 3,599 notices filed for September are 1.4 percent lower than in August and 50.5 percent lower than last September.
Foreclosure notices have been decreasing since 2010, when 127,140 notices were filed in the 13-county region. So far this year, 41,020 notices have been filed — down 43 percent from the same period in 2012.
For the past two months they have have been at or below 2006 levels, just before the housing bust.
The numbers are reported by Kennesaw-based Equity Depot, whose president and CEO, Barry Bramlett, is more cautious than James in declaring victory.
“I have to say we’re back at normal levels in terms of foreclosures,” he said. “If we stay here for six months or so, then yeah, maybe we’re past it.”
Bramlett said delinquent mortgage payments appear to be down and the number of foreclosure notices filed should be relatively consistent, even as the market continues to get better.
“It’s definitely down, there’s no doubt about that,” Bramlett said. “If it stays down, it is what it is. Anything else is just speculation.”
But he said banks may have slowed the foreclosure process in light of an improving economy, hoping more homeowners are able to catch up on payments.
Some lenders may not want the hassle of owning more property, or the hit to their balance sheet.
The houses being foreclosed on now are “seriously delinquent,” Bramlett said.
There have been persistent worries that foreclosure notices will again begin to rise. But James said he expects the notices to stay at these lower levels.
Although mortgage rates have ticked up, James said higher rates are more likely to slow down buying than they are to lead to more foreclosures. The improving job market makes it less likely that people will lose their jobs, and be unable to pay their mortgages, he said.
The steady reduction in foreclosure notices indicates a strengthening housing market, said Todd Emerson, vice president and managing broker of the Atlanta-Perimeter and Blue Ridge offices of Harry Norman Realtors and president-elect of the Atlanta Board of Realtors.
Emerson said short sales, in which owners negotiate with the lender to sell a home for less than what they owe on it, are also down.
The overall decrease in distressed sales means appraisal figures, which were sometimes dragged down below offer prices by nearby foreclosures and short sales, are more likely to reflect a seller’s asking price.
“We continue to see prices rise because we don’t have as much of that discounted property,” Emerson said.
In June, home prices rose 19 percent over the same month in 2012, according to the S&P Case-Shiller Home Price Index. It was the seventh straight month of double-digit growth.
Rising home prices, helped by fewer foreclosures, bring more people out from underwater — when an owner owes more on a home than that home is worth. They also give people more confidence in their ability to sell their home, leading to increased home sales and more new-home construction.
“The more houses we sell, the more furniture we sell, the more goods and services people need,” James said. “It spirals into job growth.”
September foreclosure levels
|Year||Foreclosure notices||Change from previous year|
|2005||2,728||0.1 percent increase|
|2006||3,442||26.2 percent increase|
|2007||4,932||43.3 percent increase|
|2008||7,967||61.5 percent increase|
|2009||12,318||54.6 percent increase|
|2010||9,975||19 percent decrease|
|2011||7,634||23.5 percent decrease|
|2012||7,274||4.7 percent decrease|
|2013||3,599||50.5 percent decrease|
WHAT IT MEANS FOR YOU
Even if you aren’t likely to sell your house anytime soon, foreclosures can hurt the value of your home. Home values help drive the broader economy by making people more confident about other types of purchases.