By Lindsey Robbins
Thursday, July 15, 2010; PG21
When it comes to foreclosures, Prince George's County still is ground zero in Maryland, as the state continues to have one of the nation's highest foreclosure rates.
Foreclosures accounted for 34.6 percent of the county's total home sales in the first quarter, according to data from RealtyTrac of Irvine, Calif., a foreclosure research company. That was the highest percentage in Maryland, with Washington County the only other county higher than 25 percent. Prince George's total of 881 foreclosure filings in the quarter was well above that of the next county, Montgomery, which saw 704 filings.
Statewide, foreclosures accounted for about 20 percent of sales in the quarter, lower than the national average of 31 percent. The state had the nation's 10th highest foreclosure rate in May.
The rate continues to increase despite state officials creating a Homeownership Preservation Task Force and trying measures to stanch the bleeding. The state's new foreclosure mediation law took effect this month.
Under the program, lenders must provide information on options available to homeowners when notifying about possible foreclosures. A lender also must file an affidavit attesting that it has fully evaluated the homeowner's eligibility for loss mitigation programs and state the basis for any denial before proceeding with foreclosure. Lenders also must send homeowners a form about foreclosure mediation.
Real estate agents in Prince George's have been making hay out of the generous foreclosed-homes inventory through the county's Neighborhood Stabilization Program, a down payment assistance initiative that began with a $10.8 million federal grant last July and recently received additional funding.
The program has worked with banks and sellers to help sell more than 569 foreclosed homes, said Rosalyn B. Clements, the program's project manager.
The program, which also is offered in Montgomery County, has been a deciding factor for some buyers, said Brian Austin, a broker with Royal Realty in Mitchellville. Clearing the foreclosed inventory is essential before the county can effectively move other homes on the market, he said.
"I'm hopeful these sales will continue," Austin said. "In my opinion, we've gone through the worst of it. But they are predicting another flood of foreclosures in the future."
This concern about the "shadow inventory" -- homes that are expected to enter foreclosure once moratoriums and extensions expire -- is shared by others in the market, such as Realtor Andre Smith, managing partner of Horizon Signature Properties, in Greenbelt. Smith also is wary about owners who might decide it is easier to default than continue to fight for his or her home.
But Smith also said such situations might generate a buyer's market and even persuade buyers who have been waiting for the market to bottom out to more seriously consider buying.
Foreclosure sales in general play a big role in the county, where home sales were up 62 percent in May over a year ago.
Homes in the county are selling at 92 percent of their list price, a sign that the market is stabilizing, Smith said. The median price in May was $199,000, some 11.5 percent below a year ago, but 5 percent above April.
"Agents are doing a better job of pricing homes around what people are willing to pay," Smith said.
The Pentagon's base realignment and closure program -- which is known as BRAC -- also is expected to help boost sales in Prince George's during the next 18 months, said Yolanda Muckle, of Long & Foster Real Estate in Mitchellville.
"BRAC is going to be so big," Muckle said, adding she already has had Navy captains looking to buy and clients who are relocating to Joint Base Andrews in Camp Springs.
"Business has not slowed down," she said. "It's really picked up. People are putting houses on the market."
The Gazette's Kevin James Shay contributed to this report.