Big jump seen in local foreclosures

LAWRENCEVILLE - Gwinnett properties in foreclosure jumped to 570 in January - the highest total in four years.

The number of foreclosures is based on legal notices submitted to the Gwinnett Daily Post this month, but paying the mortgage on time is apparently a challenge for property owners in numerous metro Atlanta counties, not only those in Gwinnett.

A 13-county metro region, including Cobb, Fulton, Rockdale, DeKalb and Gwinnett, totaled 15,253 foreclosures in the year 2000, according to local real estate tracking firm EquiSystems. Last year, there were 37,605 foreclosures - a nearly 147 percent increase.

The problem extends nationwide.

Nearly 92,000 foreclosed residential properties across the United States were on the market in December, or about 13 percent more than November, according to Foreclosure.com. That increase marked the highest month-to-month rise since March 2005.

"Over the past seven years, the numbers have slowly been going down nationally, with the exception of a few hot spots, but now every area is increasing, and there are economic factors are behind it: higher interest rates, fuel prices, unemployment," said Brad Geisen, president and CEO of Foreclosure.com.

One of those hot spots in recent years has been Atlanta, where the number of foreclosures has gone up ever year since 2000, according to EquiSystems. The trend was fueled, especially from 2001 through 2003, by the dot-com crash and the loss of many good-paying, high-tech jobs in Gwinnett and elsewhere across metro Atlanta.

Geisen's latest assessment may have been foreshadowed by the Mortgage Bankers Association.

In a December survey, the Association said fewer property owners were delinquent on their mortgage payments and fewer loans were in foreclosure.

But, even though 96 percent of homeowners paid their mortgages on time, "it is likely that rising short-term rates will impact some borrowers with adjustable rates," Doug Duncan, MBA's chief economist and senior vice president, said in the survey.

Duncan also said "natural gas prices have roughly doubled from where they were this time last year. That and the higher costs of home heating oil are driving up home heating bills this winter and will likely strain the ability of some borrowers to make their mortgage payments."