Home foreclosures in Calhoun County remained stubbornly above pre-recession levels during the first three months of the year.
The foreclosure numbers come as the county struggles with a jobless rate higher than the state average. Some area bankers, mortgage brokers and real estate experts argue foreclosures today aren't the problem they were during the height of the Great Recession. They say foreclosures for them have declined and that higher county home sales and loans in recent months are proof the market is strong and improving.
According to the Calhoun County Probate Office, the number of foreclosures in the first quarter of 2016 crept above those reported in the previous quarter. There were also slightly more compared to quarters preceding the 2007 Great Recession. Still, far fewer foreclosures were reported in the first quarter of 2016 than during the worst years of the recession.
The Great Recession caused a collapse in housing markets across the U.S., which led to significant layoffs. That in turn led to a spike in foreclosures that glutted the housing market and devalued homes.
Everett King of ERA King Real Estate in Anniston said many housing markets in the state have since recovered from the recession and the county’s is following close behind. King said the foreclosures he's seen lately have been more traditional, caused by divorce, illness and death rather than job losses.
“I think for an area that’s had all the challenges it's had, we’ve done great and the market has done great,” King said. “I don’t see anything but positives moving forward.”
After the recession hit, the county’s defense industry, including the Anniston Army Depot, saw hundreds of layoffs from military budget cuts and hundreds more job losses from the end of chemical weapons incineration at the depot — jobs that haven’t been replaced. According to the Alabama Department of Labor, the county had a 7.2 percent unemployment rate in February, higher than the state average of 6 percent.
The higher jobless rate and number of foreclosures haven’t kept the county’s housing market from seeing a boost in sales.
Alabama Center of Real Estate figures show home sales in the county were up 20 percent year-over-year in February.
“I don’t have a negative in the Calhoun County housing market,” King said.
David Dethrage, a broker with Home Realty Company in Oxford, which deals with foreclosed homes, said he had a hard time believing foreclosures in the county weren’t down to more traditional numbers.
“My inventory is down dramatically,” Dethrage said. “Personally, I’ve seen less than I did 12 months ago and certainly less than I did three years ago.”
Dethrage said it’s not always easy to discern what causes a foreclosure.
“Many times I’ll arrive at a house and it’ll be abandoned,” Dethrage said. “Sometimes you’ll never know what happened.”
Dethrage said of the foreclosures he’s still dealing with, some resulted from the lack of jobs in the area.
Larry Deason, president of Farmers and Merchants Bank in Anniston, said job losses were to blame for some of the few foreclosures his bank has dealt with in recent months.
“But foreclosures have been down at our bank, probably for the last two quarters,” Deason said. “At the same time, loan demand is up and we’re seeing a bright future.”
Shad Williams, president and CEO of Cheaha Bank in Oxford, said his bank hasn’t seen as many foreclosures as in previous years. The few foreclosures that have occurred haven’t hurt the bank, Williams said.
“The interesting thing is the value of the homes is better than they were in the Great Recession, so we’re not actually losing money when we sell,” Williams said.
The bank still tries to help homeowners avoid foreclosure when possible, he said.
“The last thing we want to do is take over someone’s house and be out there cutting their grass,” Williams said.