Washington County foreclosure filings up and down this year

April 10, 2010|By ARNOLD S. PLATOU
  • Sheila Kurtz, left, and Jonas Horst, with dog Spike, live on Papa Court in Hagerstown, where foreclosures have been filed against a large number of houses. As a result, many homes in the neighborhood where bought by investors and turned into rentals or stand empty.
By Yvette May, Staff Photographer

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Sheila Kurtz thinks she might be the only homeowner left in her Hagerstown neighborhood.

During more than two years of recession, many of the townhomes in her Pangborn Park development have been repossessed, sold and turned into rentals, or stand empty.

"I can't believe what's happened on our street," Kurtz said.

"There have been three houses sold as the result of foreclosure" since last fall, when she bought the townhome at 519 Papa Court, she said.

Now, as far as she knows, all of her neighbors are tenants.

"I haven't yet met another owner," she said.


Across the street and a few houses up, no one answers the door at 506 Papa Court.

The reason, it seems, is contained in a mildewed 8-inch-by-11-inch envelope laying in the front yard. The envelope is addressed to two people at 506 Papa Court.

The clasp is rusty, but the envelope has been torn open, a quarter-inch-thick sheaf of wet documents open to view.


"NOTICE," reads the bold-lettered line at the top of the first. "An action to foreclose the mortgage/deed of trust on the property located at 506 Papa Court, Hagerstown, Md., has been filed ..."

On the second page is the date -- July 13, 2009.


Down the street, the message is more pronounced.

"BANK OWNED PROPERTY. NO TRESPASSING," reads the notice taped to the red-paneled front door at 528 Papa Court.

'Alarming' trend

"It's reached a point where almost all real estate transfers within the City of Hagerstown are either foreclosures or bank sales," said Sharon Disque, executive director of the Hagerstown Neighborhood Development Partnership Inc.

Her independent, nonprofit organization -- which specializes in helping first-time home buyers as well as financially struggling homeowners -- tracks home sales.

In February, 44 properties were sold in the city, Disque said.

Of them, almost three of every four were distressed properties.

Specifically, 21 were foreclosed properties that lenders bought when they were unable to sell them at public auctions on the steps of the county courthouse, Disque said.

And, she said, 11 others were sales of bank-owned properties -- homes taken through foreclosure and sold in February to someone else.

The trend, which she said has been growing for several months, seems to have worsened in March.

Records show that in just two weeks of March, lenders bought 23 foreclosed Hagerstown properties -- more than the 21 they had bought in all of February.

"We find it alarming," Disque said of the trend.

"First, there's the sheer number of people who are not just facing foreclosure, but they're actually losing their homes," she said.

And, secondly, there's the price pressure that foreclosed properties put on homeowners who are trying to sell their houses now for reasons that aren't even related to the recession, Disque said.

"There's people going through divorce or who have gotten jobs in other areas, who need to sell their places," she said. "But with so many distressed properties on the market, now is not a good time to try to sell your house."

Keeping track

How much longer foreclosures will continue to be such a strong influence on the housing market depends on many factors, including the unemployment rate, mortgage interest rates and consumer confidence.

Disque said an indicator here might be the number of new foreclosure notices that lenders are filing in Washington County Circuit Court against local homeowners.

She said it often takes several months -- sometimes, because of negotiations or bankruptcy pleadings, as long as 18 months -- after a foreclosure notice has been filed for the property to be put up for auction on the courthouse steps.

Often, there are no bidders except the lender, who buys the property to protect his loan interest. But reports of price reductions are common because lenders want the mortgages most buyers need, not a house to sit empty, earning no income.

So a foreclosed property coming on the market is bad news for every homeowner trying to sell his own place. It puts pressure on everyone else's prices.

Dennis Weaver, clerk of the Circuit Court, began charting the numbers of new foreclosure filings more than a year ago. Such figures have become an economic focal point here and across the nation as the recession wears on.

Here, Weaver has seen the numbers jump.

In 2006, when the economy was beginning to show signs of weakness, lenders filed a total of 319 foreclosures in the county, according to Weaver's records.

The following year, as the dangers of adjustable rate mortgages and subprime loans became more apparent, the number of foreclosures filed here shot up to 597.

And, Weaver said, they increased to 640 in 2008 and to 1,037 in 2009.

"In 2009, especially the last six months, we had three months at 100 (each in foreclosures filed) or over, and two months in the 90s and one was 82," Weaver said. "It was worse than ever."

Month by month

Thus far this year, the pattern is less clear.

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