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Foreclosures havent hit bottom yet, expert says
Norton: Hall County's housing picture could get gloomier
Regina Cochran of Norton Real Estate walks out of a new home that was recently foreclosed on by the bank. - photo by Tom Reed

A Gainesville real estate executive who monitors economic trends says we have yet to reach the bottom of the foreclosure crisis.

"We've reached the bottom of the number of houses for sale," said Frank Norton Jr., president of the Norton Agency. "More than likely, we have not reached the bottom of the number of foreclosures."

This month, The Times, which is the legal organ for Hall County, published legal advertisements of 174 properties in foreclosure. Unless the situations are resolved, they will be sold Aug. 5 in front of the Hall County Courthouse.

In June, there were 133 foreclosures advertised.

"The foreclosure process should bottom out toward the end of this year or the first quarter of next year," Norton said. "The last half of this year, we think we should see a tapering off of those foreclosures."

Norton said at this time last year, 70 percent of the advertised foreclosures were builder foreclosures. That number has now declined to around 20 percent.

"Now we're seeing the individuals go through," he said. "The typical individual who has a house in pending foreclosure already has their house on the market for sale. They've been trying to market it for several months, often for sale by owner."

Norton said Hall County has had fewer foreclosures due to subprime mortgages than those of other counties in the region.

"South of Interstate 20 has been referred to as the ‘subprime belt,' where there was a lot of predatory lending," he said.

Norton said Hall County has had a work force population buying work force housing.

"The typical work force couple bought more house than they should have," he said. "They were stretching their limits. Many of them were receiving overtime work. Now, the economy has slowed down and many companies have eliminated overtime."

He said that the loss of additional income was compounded by a reset of adjustable rate mortgages, sending payments significantly higher and often out of reach of the family budget.

But Norton said while the number of foreclosures is high, they represent a small percentage of Hall County's 70,000 households.

On Friday, the U.S. Senate passed legislation to stimulate the nation's declining housing market. The bill passed by a vote of 63 to 5.

"This legislation incentivizes buyers to come back to the marketplace," said U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga. "It provides liquidity to refinance loans that are under water. It motivates, inspires and provides liquidity in the marketplace through Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae that does not exist right now."

The legislation is designed to stimulate the nation's declining housing market as well as strengthen the regulation of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. It also modernizes the Federal Housing Administration and expands the FHA's loan insurance programs aimed at helping borrowers avoid foreclosure.

For those who may be ready to become homeowners, it is a buyer's market.

"There are wonderful opportunities for first-time homebuyers and people who want to buy a house," Norton said. "The banks, as they take these houses back, do not intend to keep these houses in inventory. They want to turn these houses."

Norton said his agency has 300 listings of bank-owned properties in a number of Northeast Georgia counties. His firm currently represents 19 banks in disposal of foreclosed properties.

Norton said selling distressed properties is nothing new for his company, which was founded a year before the stock market collapse that signalled the start of The Great Depression.

"Our family's firm was founded in 1928," Norton said. "Generally, for the first 10 years of our existence, all we did was sell bank-owned property."