Sheriff#8217;s sales up dramatically

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 3, 2008

Your castle. Your most important investment. The place where you put your head at night. Whatever you call it, it’s YOUR home. And you want to keep it for as long as you want. Don’t you?

And usually that’s the case. Or, let’s put it another way, that used to be the case, as long as you kept up the monthly mortgage payments. And that didn’t used to be an impossibility.

That was before the wrath of foreclosures descended on homeowners sending them crashing and burning throughout the country as they watched their homes go on the auction block in sheriff’s sales.

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In Lawrence County, it’s Shawn Spencer, sheriff sale clerk, who calls out “Going, Going, Sold” on the first floor of the courthouse by the elevator by the title department as delinquent properties are offered for sale to the highest bidder.

Eight years ago when she started at the courthouse there were an average 20 properties sold at the courthouse sheriff’s sales in a year. In 2007, that number zoomed to 240.

“It’s a horror story,” she said. “It is all ages. It used to be for the most part people who moved on. They didn’t care.”

Nowadays the reasons are as varied as the demographics of those who are facing the humiliation and pain of losing their homes.

Sometimes it’s massive medical bills that wipe out the most fiscally conservative budget. Sometimes it’s having no budget at all.

Recently, there’s a new phenomenon, mortgage companies lending money at variable rates that can shoot up monthly or on appraisals out of line with the local market values. In the latter case, a mortgage for far more than the market value for the house is lent. Then when payments can’t be made, the homeowner can’t get his money out of the house by selling it because it’s not really worth the inflated mortgage.

“They will lend these huge amounts of money and then they turn around the teaser rate and they can’t make the payments,” Spencer said. “A lot of these homes with very large mortgages, people are not willing to pay the price.”

In 2007, Ohio finished the year with one of the worst foreclosure rates in the U.S., according to data from Realty Trac, Inc.

It ranked 6th with just under 90,000 properties in some aspect of foreclosure proceedings.

To put that in flesh and blood terms, one out of every 56 households last year had properties facing foreclosure.

The year before the state didn’t do much better, ranking 8th in the nation. That translates to one in 59 households affected by foreclosure.

Across the river, Kentucky’s rate pales in comparison with Ohio — the commonwealth ranked only 35th in the nation with filings just under 9,000 -10 times fewer than Ohio’s.

Even so, that was a 23.5 percent increase over 2006 for the Bluegrass state and a 77 percent jump over 2005.

Across the United States, foreclosures jumped up 79 percent in 2007 over the number reported in 2006. Last year about 1.3 million homeowners faced foreclosure proceedings. The states with the highest rates were Nevada, Florida, Michigan and California.

For whatever the reason a homeowner loses out to foreclosure the process is long and detailed.

The first thing that happens is a title search is done on the property. The law requires that and any other registered lien holders are then notified of the intent to foreclose.

“That gives any lien holder an opportunity to become part of the complaint,” Spencer said.

However, additional lien holders do not have to join in, if they choose not to. Then the process heads to court and if a judge finds in favor of the plaintiff — the one wishing to foreclose — an order of sale is issued to the sheriff’s department.

Next three appraisers, none of whom can be a Realtor, but all must be property owners, go out together to look over the exterior of the property. As the homeowner still owns the property, the appraisers cannot enter the structure.

“After we get it appraised, a sale date is set,” Spencer said. “Every property is advertised for three consecutive Sundays, starting 30 days prior to the sale date.”

Then comes the sale where the bidding must start at two-thirds of the appraised value. If no one is willing to offer that starting bid, the property is not sold. The entire process starts over again.

However, there are other options for the homeowner unable to pay his mortgage.

One is to go to the bank where he got his loan and ask to deed the property back to the bank. That is called a deed in lieu.

“If the bank will allow you to give them the house, you could preserve your credit,” Randy Mays, executive vice president at Liberty Federal Savings Bank, said. “The customer has nothing to lose to call the bank up and say I can’t afford this.”

For someone thinking about buying a home and wanting to sidestep a possible foreclosure, getting a fixed mortgage rate can offer advantages, Mays said.

“People who are on fixed incomes should have a fixed rate mortgage,” he said. “And most of us are on fixed incomes.”

He also suggests knowing the lending institution.

“You have to realize who you are dealing with,” he said. “People can’t read all these documents. You have to trust your banker. Deal with somebody you trust, your neighbor. There are good bankers in this town. We have no dishonest bankers in this town.”