Sedgwick County home foreclosures decline by nearly a quarter

The number of foreclosures in Sedgwick County is down by nearly a quarter through October, according to the number of cases filed in the court system.

But while it may mean some temporary relief for those who can't pay their mortgage, it probably doesn't signal a true bottoming out of the crisis, say experts.

Lenders have filed 1,741 foreclosure cases through the first 10 months of the year. That is down 22.7 percent from the 2,253 foreclosures at this point last year.

It's also on track to be the lowest number of foreclosures in the county since 2007 when the subprime mess first broke.

That trend closely mirrors what has happened on the national level, said Daren Blomquist of national real estate analytics firm RealtyTrac.

Nationally, he said, foreclosures dropped by about a third last fall after several of the nation's largest banks got caught in the "robo-signing" scandal in which they were accused of foreclosing on people without adequate proof that they had the legal right to.

Some of the banks caught in the scandal, such as Bank of America and Wells Fargo, are among Sedgwick County's biggest lenders.

The federal government has also tried, with limited success, for two years to push the banks to work with struggling homeowners instead of foreclosing.

The result has been a year-long slowdown, said Lawrence Volbrecht, owner of First Realty Trust in Wichita, which markets many foreclosed homes for resale.

"The process is still gummed up," Volbrecht said.

He said he will sell a foreclosed home next week that had been vacant — and its owners in default — for two years.

"They just got around to foreclosing on it," he said of the bank.

However, the October totals could be signaling a change in the trend. Last month was the first one this year in which foreclosures were significantly higher than the same month of 2010. It also had the most foreclosures filed since January.

That, too, is a national trend, Blomquist said.

The big banks have reached some settlements, adjusted their practices and started to speed up their foreclosure program.

"We don't expect to see 2012 return to 2010 levels," Blomquist said. "But it will continue at an elevated level, which likely means that ultimately this will last longer and take longer for the market to absorb than it ordinarily would."