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Hot Whatcom market means distressed homes getting snapped up

A Realtor’s sign is seen on the lawn of a foreclosed home in Egg Harbor Township, N.J. in this 2008 file photo. Home foreclosure filing notices in Whatcom County were down 17.8 percent in the first half 2016 compared to a year earlier.
A Realtor’s sign is seen on the lawn of a foreclosed home in Egg Harbor Township, N.J. in this 2008 file photo. Home foreclosure filing notices in Whatcom County were down 17.8 percent in the first half 2016 compared to a year earlier. Associated Press

With the real estate meltdown of 2008 becoming a distant memory, banks continue work on getting long-vacant local homes back on the market.

Whatcom County homeowners received 198 foreclosure filing notices in the first half of 2016, according to a recent report by RealtyTrac. That is down 17.8 percent compared to the first six months of 2015, according to the data. It’s a bigger decline than the national average of 11 percent for the same time period and puts Whatcom County back to pre-recession levels.

When it comes to distressed property, the market remains in cleaning-up phase as banks work to get rid of the last remnants of the real estate bubble burst, said Peter Roberts, a Bellingham John L. Scott real estate agent who has handled many sales of bank-owned properties over the years. The current crop of “zombie” homes tend to be vacant for up to five years, spending a long time in the foreclosure and court process, Roberts said.

By being vacant this long, many of the distressed homes coming on the market are in marginal condition. Because the local real estate market is so hot, they still are being snapped up by cash buyers who want to fix them up and sell them for a profit or turn them into rentals, Roberts said.

In Washington state, one in every 304 households received some type of foreclosure filing in the first six months of 2016, whether it was a default notice, scheduled auction or bank repossession. That ranked Washington 21st highest in the U.S.; New Jersey, Maryland and Delaware topped the list. North Dakota and South Dakota had the lowest foreclosure rates for the first half of 2016.

The U.S. average was one in 249 households receiving a foreclosure notice for the first half of 2016. In Washington foreclosure filings are expected to keep dropping, particularly in Western Washington.

“There is no reason to believe that we will see any increase in the level of foreclosure activity in the foreseeable future. In fact, I would contend that we will see the number of foreclosures continue to contract as job growth – and home price growth – continue to outperform the nation as a whole,” said Matthew Gardner, chief economist covering the Seattle market for Windermere Real Estate in a news release accompanying the data.

Dave Gallagher: 360-715-2269, @BhamHeraldBiz

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