Houses Going Up on the Auction Block

On the first Tuesday of every month, a throng of people crowds into the Family Law Center downtown.

They're here for Harris County's monthly foreclosure auction.

Constables stand on risers positioned around the room and hundreds of houses go on the block for hours.

Amanda LeCureux is with the Foreclosure Information and Listing Service. She says although Houston hasn't seen the sharp spike in foreclosures that other cities have dealt with, the numbers here are steadily increasing.

"As little as five and six years ago, Harris County mortgage foreclosures, those are homes that are scheduled for a mortgage delinquency, would do anywhere between 800 and 1,000 postings — homeowners that are delinquent that are scheduled for an upcoming auction. Now, we've got just shy of 3,200 houses scheduled, just for mortgage delinquency here."

And that's per month. So five years ago maybe 10,000-12,000 homes were scheduled for foreclosure per year. This year it could top 30,000.

Real Estate Investor Linda Muscarello says they're seeing more of what's known as bread and butter houses go up for foreclosure. And that's largely because unemployment has nearly doubled over the past year.

"The demographics regarding these new initial claims for unemployment is shifting to the people with education — the college-educated or people with some technical skills. So what we're seeing is this is the profile of people who have the 30-year fixed mortgages, whereas before it was a lot of those people who had mortgages where they frankly shouldn't have even had mortgages because they had those exotic mortgage products. But now it's hitting home, because of so much job loss."

And both Muscarello and LeCureux say the coming months won't be much better, or much worse, for the housing market.

"We expect these same figures — this 2,600-2,700 on up to 3,000 any given month. We don't expect to see any major or anything terribly shocking more than what we've seen over the past year. We certainly don't expect to see anywhere near what we saw in the '80s."

Of course housing analysts say to keep in mind if you factor out foreclosures, the overall market is only down about one percent from last month.

Laurie Johnson. KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.

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