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Recession generates record number of foreclosures in region


Several counties in the region reported record numbers of foreclosure sales in 2009, and officials say 2010 isn't shaping up to be much better.

On the other hand, the recession that knocked much of the United States for a loop has had a somewhat less devastating impact locally, said Blaise Johnson, director of lending for Fargo-based Gate City Bank.

"We have seen a slight increase in properties we've had go through foreclosure," Johnson said.

"But it's not anywhere near what we've seen on the nationwide level." He said the default rate on home loans nationwide is almost 10 percent, compared to about 1.5 percent for North Dakota and less than 1 percent for Gate City Bank.

He said in cases where Gate City initiated foreclosure, it often involved someone who lost their job.

Record pace

Counties posting record foreclosure sales in 2009 included Cass and Richland counties in North Dakota and Clay and Otter Tail counties in Minnesota.

The pace of foreclosure sales in Otter Tail County is up compared to January 2009, said Marcia Thompson, civil process clerk for the county.

"It seems like 10, 11, 13 sales are being scheduled every Thursday," Thompson said, adding those numbers are the highest she has ever seen.

Clay County, too, saw a record number of foreclosure sales in 2009, said Bruce Fleury, who handles sales for the Clay County Sheriff's Department.

"The recovery is a lot slower than we anticipated and the effects in the valley are probably a little bit greater than people thought it might be," Fleury said.

He said federal legislation aimed at helping property owners stay in homes might have delayed some sales, but he said ultimately "it didn't stem the tide."

On the bright side, Fleury said it's possible foreclosure sales in Clay County are bottoming out.

Wilkin County, Minn., saw foreclosure sales hit a high in 2007 with 16, but the 2009 total of 15 was still high, said Sheriff Tom Matejka

Matejka, who coordinates Salvation Army efforts in the county, said he has never seen so many requests for help from the Salvation Army as he is seeing these days.

"A lot of people are hurting," he said.

Sales draw few bids

Cindy Sieling, office manager for the Becker County Sheriff's Department, said there were record numbers of foreclosures in the county in 2009 and things are not looking good for 2010.

She said 29 foreclosure sales are scheduled for January alone.

And while not every scheduled sale happens, Sieling said the numbers are unprecedented.

When the Sheriff's Department holds a foreclosure sale in Norman County, Minn., the only potential buyer bidding on a property is usually the agent for the mortgage company, said Sheriff Myron Thronson.

"We are seeing a lot more inquiries by private individuals in regard to the sales," because some people probably think they can get a good deal, Thronson said.

He said people seem to change their minds when they realize what the process involves, including the redemption period that homeowners are granted to resolve problems with their loans.

"What happens is, whoever is holding the mortgage they bid what the mortgage is, plus whatever added expenses there are," Thronson said.