The number of homes scheduled for foreclosure sale was about flat in the first half of 2011, perhaps signaling that the wave of foreclosures has stabilized.
There were 1,533 homes scheduled for sale by the Sedgwick County Sheriff's Office in the first half of the year, but only 627 were actually sold. The rest were pulled out at the last minute by the banks.
Those levels are down about 25 percent from the high seen the first half of 2010 but are also about 25 percent higher than prerecession levels.
Foreclosures have slowed since last year, said Courtley Jackson, owner of residential appraiser Courtley Jackson Co., when hundreds of people with subprime loans fell into foreclosure. Many of them believed they were misled into obtaining mortgages they couldn't afford.
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"In the first wave there were lots of angry homeowners," Jackson said. "We'd find houses with all the sheetrock torn out, like somebody had vandalized them."
With the subprime loans largely gone, the biggest factor driving foreclosures is unemployment, he said. But that hasn't really changed much. The number of people working in Sedgwick County has been about the same since mid-2009.
As the most financially vulnerable homeowners sell out or go into foreclosure, the number of foreclosures should keep falling.
But, say experts, declining home prices act to push up foreclosures by changing the calculations of homeowners and banks.
When homeowners lose their jobs, or otherwise lose the income needed to make a house payment, they face a crisis.
They first try to sell their home, said Lawrence Volbrecht, owner of First Realty Trust, which markets many foreclosed homes for resale.
It's a tough housing market, but homeowners whose mortgages are under water tend to be reluctant to price the house aggressively enough to sell because they would still owe the bank money, he said.
The less equity homeowners have, the less interested they are in doing what it takes to sell the house and the easier it is to hand it back to the bank — and live in the house for free for up to a year while the bank pursues foreclosure.
Volbrecht said he just handled a house in which the owners marketed the house for $92,500. They had it on the market for 128 days and couldn't sell it. They had bought it in 2007 for $85,000. He figures they put the extra in to cover sales costs. When it didn't sell for what they considered the minimum acceptable amount, they stopped making payments and let it go into foreclosure.
"They lived there as long as they could rent free and walked away," he said.
Stan Longhofer, director of the center for Real Estate at Wichita State University, said prices have fallen about 2 percent since late 2008.
Not a lot, he said, but enough to push some people with no equity and no job into foreclosure because they can't afford the thousands it takes to sell the house and can't afford to wait weeks or months to sell.
"It doesn't take a lot when the people can't afford to sell," Longhofer said.