Metro foreclosure notices down 12 percent this year

Another drop in home foreclosure notices is boosting hopes that metro Atlanta’s foreclosure crisis may have peaked.

Numbers of notices have been trending down for the year, and they fell again in September to 7,274, from 7,634 a year earlier.

Although that was up slightly from August, foreclosure notices for the year-to-date are down 12 percent, to 72,441. The downward trend could benefit all homeowners, because the avalanche of foreclosures on the market has depressed values in many areas.

The percentage of September notices that were repeats — second or more notices received by home owners in default — increased from about 60 to about 75 percent of the total according to the Equity Depot Atlanta Foreclosure Report.

There are several interpretations of the drop in new notices. One is that the biggest bulge of foreclosures produced by the recession and credit bubble has worked through the system. Now lenders are moving into clean-up mode.

Another is that with the recent stabilization of housing prices, banks are focused more on getting prior foreclosures processed and sold — thus the increase in second, third or fourth notices.

A third influence may be that a recent Georgia court decision that tightened requirements for foreclosures has slowed the initial step of filing a notice.

Steve Palm, chief executive of Cobb-based real estate data firm SmartNumbers, favors the first explanation.

“I think we’ve gotten through the worst,” he said.

He has watched sales volume and prices trend up through winter and summer, though he expects them to flatten in the fall, which is typical for real-estate.

Judson Kidd, CEO at Keller-Williams Atlanta Midtown, thinks banks have finally found their pace at foreclosure, and with home prices in better neighborhoods trending up, the mortgage owners want to get foreclosures off their books and sell them.

“They have a backlog of inventory that they are sitting on and trying to work out [with home owners]. But it is just not working out,” Kidd said.

So the lenders are taking note of the relatively low number of homes for sale — inventory has dropped dramatically in the last year — and are pushing to get the houses to market.

The Georgia Court of Appeals case Reese versus Provident Funding may have also contributed to the slowdown in new notices. The court ruled specific information about mortgage lenders needed to be in foreclosure documents. Attorneys could be slowing new notices to review documents before sending them.

While foreclosure numbers remain far higher than before the financial crisis of 2008, the number for October could provide a strong clue as to whether the worst of the crisis has passed for metro Atlanta. It has a five-week rather than a four-week period in which notices can go out. Usually that means an upturn in the monthly number.

“I will be interested to see if the normal 25 to 30 percent bump occurs,” Equity Depot’s Bramlett said. “If not, we may truly be in a downward trend.”

Foreclosure notices do not necessarily end in repossessions; they are an initial legal step in the process. Lenders may fail to proceed or move quickly. Also, lenders can work with borrowers to find a settlement or write down loans.

Homes that actually are repossesed usually sell at low prices, which drags down nearby home valuations and depresses government real-estate assessments.

That means local governments get less property taxes to pay for police, fire protection, schools and services such as libraries.

Foreclosures in metro Atlanta

County Aug. Sept

Cherokee 281 343

Clayton 557 689

Cobb 715 834

DeKalb 1,067 1,139

Fayette 97 95

Forsyth 182 204

Fulton 1,090 1,165

Gwinnett 1,285 1,517

About the Author

Editors' Picks