According to legal advertisements placed in the Marietta Daily Journal, there have been 8,831 foreclosures in the county so far in 2012, which is down 24 percent from the same time in 2011.
But the improvements might not be permanent.
“I still think that banks are sitting on a lot of properties that can certainly be foreclosed on,” said Dr. Don Sabbarese, director of Kennesaw State University’s Econometric Center. “As we do see some positive increases in housing prices, you will see more banks placing homes on the market so they can get more money out of them than they would have six months ago.”
Cobb County only had 1,675 foreclosures in 2000, according to Equity Depot, a Kennesaw-based company that tracks foreclosures in the area. While foreclosures rose to 3,781 by 2003, they stayed relatively steady until 2006, when they rose to 4,567. From there, they continued to rise, increasing to 5,565 in 2007; then 8,187 in 2008; reaching 12,887 in 2009 and then peaking at 15,000 in 2010. The company reported 12,805 foreclosures in Cobb for all of 2011.
“You always had foreclosures, but if you’re looking at the numbers, during that time they just skyrocketed,” Sabbarese said.
Unemployment and declining home values are the main reasons for so many foreclosures, Sabbarese said.
“Either people lose jobs or people in current jobs are working less hours,” he said. “Most of it comes down to lost income, but there may be people whose value of their homes is lower than their mortgage.”
Some of those people will just walk away from the home, Sabbarese said.
Brad Wheeler, a Cobb School Board candidate, served as president of the Amberton homeowners association off Lost Mountain Road in west Cobb during the worst of the foreclosure crisis. Though the neighborhood of 220 homes only had a few foreclosures, he said they still had problems with the homes not being maintained.
“Once the home starts to sit, somebody’s got to cut the grass,” Wheeler said. “Some of these problems were going on for several years.”
And finding the bank or investor who now owns the home can be a chore in its own, he said.
“A lot of times, you don’t know who owns it, and you have to track them down,” Wheeler said. “It’s like a maze sometimes.”
And if no owner can be found, that means HOA dues aren’t being collected. Wheeler said Amberton was able to make up for some of that lost income because of a covenant that allows the neighborhood to rent out its facilities. The HOA rented the neighborhood pool to a local swim team to use for practice.
“Our clubhouse pool that was sitting empty for nine months out of the year, now that group can come in and help us pay the expenses,” Wheeler said.
KSU’s Sabbarese said there isn’t much residents of neighborhoods can do to stem the number of foreclosures in their subdivisions. While some neighborhoods have restricted residents putting homes up for rent, he said that could make the problem worse.
“Renting may give an option to someone who can’t afford a mortgage,” he said. “People may rent it out so they don’t have to stop payment on the mortgage.”
Others see the foreclosure crisis as a chance to make an investment. Mark Jeanetta, owner of California-based Paragon Investors LLC, said he has purchased 60 homes in Cobb County. He then flips the homes and often rents them or sells them to other investors who will hold onto them longer.
In Georgia, Jeanetta owns properties in Cobb, Gwinnett, DeKalb and Douglas counties. He said that, because property taxes are lower in Cobb, it allows him to return a higher yield here than in the other locations.
Outside Georgia, Jeanetta owns homes in Cleveland, Dallas, St. Louis, Phoenix, as well as parts of Florida. He said the Atlanta area is among his top markets.
“Atlanta has quite a few foreclosures, and also the homes are comparatively newer,” Jeanetta said. “In Atlanta and Dallas, you’re not talking about homes that are 80 years old, you’re talking about homes that are 20 years old.”
The area also has a younger population than other parts of the county, which bodes well for future home value increases, Jeanetta said. Currently, he said the area is a strong market for rentals.
Marietta City Councilman Johnny Sinclair, a real estate agent, said the southwestern part of the county has been hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis, while his city has held up the best.
“You have a lot of people who have been here, who have stayed in their homes a long time, where you have a lot of first-time homebuyers in other areas,” he said.
Sinclair said he has heard there could still be a backlog of foreclosures that have yet to be processed.
“I don’t know if we’re going to see a large drop in property values, but we’ll continue to see a lot of large numbers in the system,” he said.
While foreclosed homes have meant discounts for those who can afford them in the past, Sinclair said the costs are now being driven up by investors.
“The amount of foreign investors investing in the real estate market will blow your mind,” he said. “The whole market for buying homes to rent them out is huge right now.”