Spokane Journal of Business

Number of foreclosures tops 1,000 during 2000

Observers in Spokane, Kootenai counties say figures should level off

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The number of foreclosure actions filed in Spokane County last year jumped for the fifth straight year and hit 1,000 for the first timewell above the last documented peak of 853 foreclosures recorded in 1988.

Meanwhile, across the Washington-Idaho border, Kootenai County saw a decrease in the number of foreclosures filed during the 12-month period, ending Nov. 30. In that most-recent period, 286 foreclosures were filed in that county, compared with 369 in the year-earlier 12-month period, according to figures from Kaysville, Utah-based RMS Information Services Inc.

Observers in both counties say those levels likely will remain steady in 2001.

According to the Spokane County auditors figures, 1,001 foreclosures on deeds of trust were filed in 2000, which is about 20 percent more than the 835 foreclosures reported the year earlier.

In Kootenai County, the 286 reported foreclosures in the most-recent 12-month period represented an about 22 percent decrease over the year-earlier period.

Phil Kuharski, a longtime observer of Spokanes economy, predicts that the number of foreclosures in Spokane County this year will hover right around last years level.

I think weve got to be near our peak levels, Kuharski says. I sure would be surprised if the number of foreclosures goes up a lot more. He adds that the only way foreclosure numbers here would continue to rise is if theres an economic recession, which Kuharski doesnt expect.

Chuck Hollingsworth, Coeur dAlene-based regional manager for Boise-based Pioneer Title Co., says hell be looking for the foreclosure numbers in Kootenai County to level off this year.

Hollingsworth says that a majority of the foreclosures filed in Kootenai County last year were on properties purchased in 1999. He attributes that to housing prices increasing faster than wages, which caused some home buyers to buy homes that they couldnt afford. Then, when some of those home buyers encountered financial troubles, such as after a divorce or illness, that created an additional burden from which they couldnt recover.

Also, some mortgage lendersto remain competitivewere offering 125 percent loans in 1999 to help first-time buyers get into a house, Hollingsworth says. Some of those home buyers realized that because they had no equity in their property, they had nothing to lose by walking away from their debtexcept for their credit rating, which could be re-established in about three years, he says.

Many of the independent mortgage lenders that were around in 1999 are no longer in business, though, because of the rise in interest rates last year, and banks are practicing more conservative lending practices, Hollingsworth says.

Kuharski says the rising trend in foreclosures in Spokane County could be an aftereffect of a surge in home-buying activity and property values in the early 1990s, as well as aggressive competition between mortgage lenders here that may have enticed more non-traditional home buyers into the market.

Kuharski says that during the 1990s, a number of people moved here with the anticipation of landing good-paying jobs, and because of that, perhaps, they bought more expensive homes than they could afford, banking on either pay increases or at least an appreciation in property values that would allow them to sell their homes for a profit.

That short-lived population increase and price appreciation boomlet was followed by a much softer real estate market.

Still, Kuharski says, more positive factors are emerging. Home values now are appreciating again, interest rates have gone down, more jobs are being created, and the apartment vacancy rate is declining. So why foreclosures continue to rise remains somewhat of a mystery.

Weve got some real confusing real estate factors going on, Kuharski says. Theres probably something else going on that we just havent put our finger on yet. Its likely sociological as much as economical.

Kuharski adds that because filing for bankruptcy protection no longer holds the stigma it once did, perhaps people are more willing to turn their houses back over to lenders.

  • Lisa Harrell

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