Friday, July 31, 2009

Reporter's Notebook

- Paul Leonard can be contacted at

…And the housing hits just keep on coming

Just-released foreclosure numbers continue to paint a bleak picture, not only for Southwest Washington homeowners, but potential homebuyers. The foreclosure rate for the Portland metro statistical area, which includes Multnomah and Washington Counties in Oregon and Clark County in Washington, jumped 1 percent for the month of June over the same period a year ago, according to numbers released this week by American CoreLogic, a Sacramento, Calif.-based real estate tracking firm.

But foreclosure filings are only the endpoint of a long process – one that tells only part of the story. Even more troubling, 4.4 percent more metro area homeowners are falling behind 90 days or more on their loans compared to a year ago. “There has definitely been an increase in the number of local distressed properties and short sales,” said Lynn Krogseng of Keller Williams Realty in Vancouver.

Unlike much of 2008, the recent uptick in foreclosures is not so much the result of bad loans coursing through the system, but the result of mounting job losses in the region, according to Windemere associate broker Mike Lamb. In Clark County, June unemployment was up 6.3 percent from a year ago, to 12.4 percent. Cowlitz County’s June unemployment stands at 12.8 percent, Skamania at 11.2 percent.

Searching for a bright underside to this week’s dismal foreclosure numbers, I asked Krogseng if she had any advice for potential buyers hoping to snag a bargain. “It’s definitely a ‘hold on to your seats, it’s going to be a bumpy ride’ moment,” Krogseng said. “Be prepared to maybe get as much as six months into the process and still not get the deal.”

Krogseng reported a success rate of about 50 percent on recent short sale bids. In a short sale, a homeowner accepts a bid under the pay-off amount of their mortgage(s). Even in a declining housing market, a lender may choose to reject a short sale offer, opting instead to sell a house at auction, according to Krogseng.

As bad as things seem for buyers and sellers in this volatile housing market, the two realtors contacted by VBJ seemed bullish on the prospects for a rebound. “We’re already seeing a little recovery,” Lamb said. “This is just the rat moving through the snake.”

And in other (bad) news…

The fed’s cash for clunker initiative, which unexpectedly ran out of money Thursday after only a week, begs the question: “Where was this program when I was driving my 10-year old Volkswagen with no A/C in high school?”

And in more somber news: healthcare for low-income Southwest Washington women and children just got a little bit more unaffordable. SWMC announced today that it has closed its Healthy Steps Women’s and Children’s Clinic. Facing cuts up to $7 million in state funding, the hospital said it could no longer afford the 20-year-old facility’s $3.5 million annual price tag.