Foreclosures rise statewide; Lowndes sees 'slight uptick'

March 6, 2009

Neal Wagner -

 

Although Mississippi mortgage brokers during the past several months have seen a rise in the number of homeowners delinquent on their mortgage payments, Lowndes County brokers are reporting a different story. 

 

"Are there delinquencies here? Yes, there are," said Jeff Farnham, president of JTS and Co. Mortgage Brokers on Fifth Street North in Columbus. "But they are not rising among our clientele." 

 

Statewide, just over 13 percent of Mississippi homeowners fell at least 30 days behind in their mortgage payments during the fourth quarter of 2008, with subprime loans fueling a recession crisis, according to data released Thursday. 

 

But the figures from the Mortgage Bankers Association also showed that more homeowners with fixed-rate mortgages -- both prime and subprime -- were having payment problems, a trend the MBA said was indicative of increased joblessness. 

 

During the latest quarter, 4.2 percent of all homeowners were at least 90 days past due, up from 3.5 percent for the third quarter. During the third quarter, 11.7 percent of all loans were at least 30 days past due and 3.5 percent had hit the 90-day mark. 

 

Subprime loans, especially those with adjustable rates, continued to be the major problem. Just over 32 percent of all subprime loans were at least 30 days past due and 13 percent had reached at least 90 days. 

 

The Mississippi market for subprime adjustable-rate mortgages -- the center of the national financial meltdown -- showed 38.1 percent of homeowners at least 30 days past due and 18 percent at least 90 days past due. That was up from the third quarter figures of 34.6 percent and 15.1 percent. 

 

However, local homeowners, mortgage brokers and real estate agents have been somewhat "shielded" from the delinquent payment uptick, said Rick McGill, a mortgage broker with Crye-Leike Properties Unlimited on Highway 45 North. 

 

"We have seen a very slight increase in the number of people in our area who are delinquent on their payments," said McGill. "Columbus and Lowndes County has been sort of isolated from the problems the rest of the country has been facing. 

 

"But I think it may be starting to affect us some, though," McGill added. "Usually, the last ones to be affected by a recession are the first ones to come out of it. Since our area was hit late, hopefully we will be the first ones to come back out of it soon." 

 

Local real estate agents also are reporting the relative immunity of the Lowndes County housing market. 

 

"We have been pretty much immune to it here in Lowndes County and really all over the state, compared to some of the other hot housing areas of the country," said Doris Hardy, a real estate agent with Century 21 in Columbus. "I think as time goes on, though, we may start selling more and more foreclosed properties. 

 

"During the past few months, people have been contacting us and asking how the market is doing. That is usually a sign that they are getting at least a little bit behind on their payments," Hardy added. "We have seen a slight uptick in that during the past 30 days. It''s important to remember, though, that markets that go down eventually come back up again." 

 

Statewide, the MBA is reporting creeping problems showing up among fixed rates -- both prime and subprime. Nearly 8 percent of prime borrowers were at least 30 days past due and 2 percent were at least 90 days behind. The figure was nearly one-in-three for subprime fixed borrowers, with 13 percent at the 90-day mark. 

 

During the fourth quarter, those homeowners with seriously delinquent prime loans -- one of the final steps before losing their houses to foreclosure -- increased from 2.8 percent to 3.4 percent. Seriously delinquent subprime loans increased from 15.2 percent to 20.3 percent. 

 

However, local mortgage brokers urge residents to adopt a positive outlook on the situation. 

 

"Looking on the positive side of this, right now is certainly a great time to buy a house. The prices are the lowest they have been in a long time," said McGill. "And it''s important to remember that nothing bad can last forever." 

 

Associated Press business writer Alan Sayre contributed to this report.