Looming Foreclosures Cast Shadow Over Housing Uptick

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65-year-old Janis Thompson and her dog, Zoodle the Poodle, live in Euclid.

Thompson wanted to escape the Midwest winters this year, by selling her cozy colonial home and moving to North Carolina.

But now she’s staying put, given recent events…

“Each house on each side of me, have gone into foreclosure," explains Thompson. "The one to the south of me, the lady lived there for 26 years. The one to the north, he had only been there maybe five years. But both of them lost their jobs, and now both of them have lost their homes.”

Not that Thompson isn’t grateful for keeping her home.

But the declining values of her neighborhood mean that her house – once estimated at about $105,000 – is now pegged at $78,000.

“After 17 years of paying mortgage faithfully, I’m not sure that I could sell the house for enough to cover the mortgage and realtor fees.”

Thompson says there may be a dozen homes on her street that’ll be up for sale this year.

RealtyTrac shows about 500 homes in Euclid that are bank-owned, many priced at 20 to 50 percent their original value.

Daren Blomquist is RealtyTrac’s Vice President. He says nationally, there are 44,000 bank-owned foreclosures, down from 55,000 a year ago, and from 73,000 in 2011.

But Ohio is bucking that trend.

“Going through the month of March, we saw over 4,500 properties in Ohio repossessed by banks. And that was up 39 percent from a year ago," says Blomquist. "That increase was the seventh straight month in Ohio, that we’ve seen a year over year increase in those bank repossessions, so the numbers are actually going the opposite way in Ohio, unfortunately. That’s also pushing Ohio’s foreclosure rate to Number 4 in the country, behind Nevada, Florida, and Illinois.”

RealtyTrac says Ohio also has a 25 percent increase in shadow inventory, or unlisted, bank-owned foreclosures.

Unlike occupied homes, these can suffer damage from natural disasters, vandals or scrap metal thieves…that may go unnoticed or fixed for some time. Then, once they’re finally listed for sale, their lower price can undercut the local market rate.

One such property is getting prepped for market in South Euclid….

“Side door’s open, garage door’s open…we’re ready to go,” calls out Edward Bugos.

Outside this 3-bedroom house on Prasse Road, Bugos waves an inspector inside. Bugos is a realtor and broker with Caldwell Banker/Hunter Realty. He explores the 90-year-old house…pointing out missing or broken fixtures, unfinished renovations, and a child’s bedroom riddled with graffiti.

“It’s sometimes very sad when I have to go into some of these houses, and just see how people lived. In the past. And it’s like, `Wow…I can’t get over some of this.’”

RealtyTrac says part of the reason Ohio is seeing an increase in its shadow inventory is that it’s a judicial foreclosure state.

That means a judge has to review every single foreclosure, compared to other states that simply work with a trustee—usually a title company—to put a defaulted property to auction.

Given the foreclosure crisis that’s hit northeast Ohio in recent years -- and the amount of paperwork involved -- the region may finally be getting around to its share, while other states have already processed theirs.

Bugos also expects an increase.

“This (house) here was probably part of the shadow inventory that’s been lurking out there for the last 13-14 months, waiting to come to the market. And we have a contract pending on it already, for $34,900."

Compare that to $105,000, which was its selling price in 1999.

So just when and how much shadow inventory is released into the housing market…?

“There probably is an ebb and flow and a science to it, but we don’t know what it is,” concedes Daniel Keltner. He's a realtor with eight years’ experience in working with bank-owned properties in northeast Ohio. His clients include Fannie Mae, HSBC, and many smaller firms. He says while banks don’t discuss their shadow inventories, they are motivated to sell. Rather than rolling out such properties on a “sold as is” basis…

“….a lot of our clients are taking a different stance, they’re doing really good things to fix these properties up, so they don’t bring the neighborhood down.”

Back in Euclid, Janis Thompson hopes property values will bounce back within five years.

While not terribly excited about spending more winters in Ohio, she’s resigned to staying put.

“Originally I felt terribly depressed," shrugs Thompson. "I’ve picked out an apartment complex in the Raleigh area that I was going to move to. I have family down there. I thought, ‘Oh, you’re still young enough, you can make friends,’ and now I have no idea when -- if ever -- I can get down there. I don’t think we have choices anymore on that.”

For now, Thompson and her friends will keep an eye on the empty homes dotting their neighborhood….and wait for its recovery.

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