Housing market improves despite slight foreclosure uptick
by Patrick McCreless
Jul 01, 2013 | 3967 views |  0 comments | 118 118 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A slight increase in Calhoun County foreclosures in the second quarter of the year did not stifle growth in sales and average prices in the area housing market.

According to the Calhoun County Probate Office, the county had 90 foreclosures in April, May and June, 11 more than were recorded in the first quarter of the year. Despite the increase in foreclosures, which can depress average home prices and signal weakness in the economy, average home prices and new mortgages in the area rose in recent months. The numbers indicate an improving housing market, lessening the impact foreclosures had on it during the height of the recession, some housing industry experts say.

Statistics from the Alabama Center for Real Estate show county homes sold for an average price of $114,354 in May. In contrast, homes in the county sold for an average of $101,345 during the same month last year. April showed similar improvement, with county homes sold at an average price of $109,439 during the month. Homes in the county sold at an average of $102,924 during the same month last year.

June housing figures were not available.

Meanwhile, probate office mortgage records, which include new home mortgages and mortgage refinancing, show 954 mortgages in the second quarter of 2013 — 60 more than in the first quarter of the year and 117 more than during the second quarter of last year.

Foreclosures have been a persistent problem for the housing industry beginning with the 2008 recession and continuing through the following years of recovery. The flood of foreclosures in the market, brought about by massive layoffs, drove down home prices, depressing the housing market.

But housing markets across the country have shown improvement, at least in the last couple of years, due in part to fewer foreclosures.

"Foreclosures are just not anything like they were," said Everett King of ERA King Real Estate in Anniston. "Sure, there will be a slight up in foreclosures every now and then — we're not talking about a barrage of stuff occurring month after month."

King said the housing market is improving in part due to rising prices and interest rates. Last year, the interest rate on a mortgage averaged around 3.75 percent, King said. Interest rates now average around 4.75 percent, he said.

"It's all creating an urgency for people to get in the market now before costs go up more," King said.

Shad Williams, president and CEO of Cheaha Bank in Oxford, agreed with King about rising prices and interest rates creating an urgency in the market. Williams said his bank has seen more mortgages in recent months.

"Everybody who was holding off on the rates to go down some more have realized that rates have reversed course," Williams said.

Leonard Zumpano, professor of finance at the University of Alabama and the chair of real estate economics for the Alabama Association of Realtors, said housing markets across the country have improved in recent months, lessening the impact of foreclosures.

"That excess supply of foreclosures is being more rapidly absorbed in the market," Zumpano said. "The economy is improving and more people are able to refinance ... I don't think foreclosures are being an issue on the housing market anymore."

Hugh Rowden, regional servicing director for Wells Fargo, said the bank has seen consistent improvement in the county housing market in recent months. Rowden said 95 percent of Wells Fargo customers in the county are paying their mortgages on time, compared to the national average of 93 percent.

"We're seeing both foreclosures and delinquencies remain flat year over year," Rowden said. "Things are pretty good in Anniston."

Rowden said Wells Fargo works with its customers in danger of foreclosure throughout the entire process to find some way for them to keep their homes if possible.

"Foreclosures are not good for the customer, they're not good for the community and they're not good for the financial institution," he said.

Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.

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