Foreclosures on rise in Sedgwick Co.

The Wichita area appears to be losing ground in the foreclosure epidemic.

Sedgwick County has seen a growing number of foreclosures, culminating in a spike in September, the most recent month available, according to the Sedgwick County Sheriff's Office.

While the rate of foreclosures in the area remains well below the national average, real estate data firm RealtyTrac says that the local foreclosure rate is rising faster than the national average.

That reflects an evolution of the main driver of foreclosures from bad subprime mortgages to a general weakness in the economy, according to RealtyTrac.

"Pretty much across the country, including Kansas, the unemployment rate has gone up, and historically that's been the primary reason people fall into foreclosure," RealtyTrac spokesman Daren Blomquist said.

The RealtyTrac figures show that the housing bust is still echoing in places such as Las Vegas, but foreclosures are now rising in areas such as McAllen, Texas; Burlington, Vt.; and, to a lesser degree, Wichita.

Out of 203 metro areas, Wichita was ranked 140th of the worst in total foreclosures per capita, with one for every 303 households. That compares with one for every 20 households in Las Vegas.

But when comparing the third quarter of 2009 with the third quarter of 2008, Wichita ranked 61st of the worst 203. The area saw a 52 percent increase in the number of homes in foreclosure during the quarter.

Although the numbers are counted differently, the Sedgwick County Sheriff's Office foreclosure sales confirm the trend.

The last three months have seen a 74 percent increase in foreclosures compared with the same three months of 2008.

"For us, it's directly tied to our employment situation," said Stan Longhofer, director of the Center for Real Estate at Wichita State University.

"This is about the time when people who got layoff notices are starting to get hit with foreclosures."

He said that the easy financing may not have led to a large housing bubble, but it did leave quite a few people with little equity when it comes time to try to sell the house.

The homes haven't lost value, but laid-off workers may discover that their homes haven't appreciated much in recent years. It will cost them part of their savings to pay the real estate commission and other sale costs, plus wait for the sale.

So, he said, instead they may let the house go into foreclosure.

"They're not really upside down," he said, "just not upside up enough."