Sedgwick County home foreclosures dropped in the third quarter from the first two quarters of the year.
The Sedgwick County Sheriff's Department scheduled 838 foreclosures during July, August and September, down from 1,114 in the first quarter and 944 in the second quarter.
Of homes that were actually foreclosed upon, there were 387 homes in the third quarter, compared with 427 in the first quarter and 389 in the second quarter.
But whether this signals that the wave of local foreclosures has crested is up for debate.
Bob Allen, owner of Kansas REO, a brokerage that handles the sale of foreclosed houses for banks, said the decline is real. Those who took out subprime mortgages, and then lost their homes when their interest rates reset higher, are gone, he said.
And the wave of foreclosures caused by layoffs has probably peaked, as well, he said. The bulk of those occurred a year or more ago.
"The people who were in trouble, they've taken the hit," he said.
Stan Longhofer, director of the Center for Real Estate at Wichita State University, said he tends to agree.
Foreclosures, Longhofer said, generally happen when a homeowner has little equity in the home, such as buying with a zero-percent-down mortgage, followed by an income shock, such as a job loss or big medical bill.
As time wears on from the heavy layoffs in the spring of 2009, the number of new people entering foreclosure would tend to fall, he said.
The new layoffs at Cessna and Hawker Beechcraft — and prospect of huge job losses at Hawker Beechcraft — would change that.
"If we have a new shock come through that would create another wave," he said.
But Lawrence Volbrecht, owner of the Wichita office of Estates Unlimited, said he thought the decline was more a reflection of the limits of the legal system.
A foreclosure is a lengthy process, involving multiple court appearances, legal notices and court filings. When it operates smoothly, it generally takes 10 to 11 months from the first delinquent mortgage payment to the departure of the former owner.
The system in Sedgwick County is already operating about at its maximum, Volbrecht.
"The pipeline, there's no sense of stuffing it with more," Volbrecht said.
The time it takes to foreclose likely will get even longer because of government pressure on the big banks to try to work with mortgage holders, he said.
And, he said, the recent discovery that some banks hadn't handled the documentation correctly on huge numbers of mortgages will only delay that further.
Bank of American, JP Morgan Chase and GMAC have all said they are halting foreclosures while they review their processes.