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Laredo Morning Times, June 14, 2009, page 1

ECONOMY

Foreclosures

For help with your mortgage

By JULIETA CHIQUILLO

LAREDO MORNING TIMES

Among the hardest hit by the housing industry crisis are the homeowners themselves — some because they took on more than they could afford, and others simply the victims of circumstances beyond their control. Neighborhoods with foreclosed properties are also

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Laredo Morning Times, June 14, 2009, page 1 ECONOMY Foreclosures For help with your mortgage By
Laredo Morning Times, June 14, 2009, page 1 ECONOMY Foreclosures For help with your mortgage By

They’re up in the county, state

By JULIETA CHIQUILLO

LAREDO MORNING TIMES

Hugo Lozano’s youngest son used to play with his Hot Wheels on a windowsill in his parents’ one-bedroom apartment on Clark Avenue. But Lozano had bigger dreams for his family. In 2003, Lozano and his wife bought a $125,000 house in Village Heights, where their two boys would each have their own room to play in.

They invested a lot in the

house. The Lozanos retiled the

floor and did some other mainte-

nance work themselves. The house also welcomed a daughter, now 9 months old.

Working something out

“It wasn’t only a house or a dream to own a house,” said Lozano, a customer service man- ager at a local bank. “It was our home.” But by the end of 2007, the bills were piling up as the couple struggled with their mortgage

payments. Facing the risk of fore-

closure, they sought help from lo-

cal nonprofit Laredo-Webb Neigh- borhood Housing Services and managed to work out a deal with their mortgage company. They’re among the lucky ones. The number of mortgage fore- closure listings in Webb County rose 22 percent during the first six months of 2009, with the county reporting a monthly average of 165 listings. That’s compared to a monthly average of 135 in the first half of 2008, according to figures

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Laredo Morning Times, June 14, 2009, page 16

FORECLOSURES

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from the county clerk’s of- fice. Some properties may be repeated from month to month if
from the county clerk’s of-
fice.
Some properties may be
repeated from month to
month if they didn’t sell in
previous auctions.
Before 2008, the county
posted fewer than 100 fore-
closure listings per month,
said Margie R. Ibarra, coun-
ty clerk.
“I really don’t know what
the problem is with every
family,” Ibarra said. “Some
maybe have lost their job.
But we encourage them to
save their house.”
Webb County is not
alone. Bexar, Travis,
Williamson, Hays and Bas-
trop counties also have seen
an increase in mortgage
foreclosure listings, the last
four reporting an increase
of more than 50 percent in
the first six months of the
year compared to the first
half of last year, according
to news reports.
Ibarra said 49 homes
have already been posted for
the July auction. The dead-
line to post for the July auc-
tion is June 17, Ibarra said,
noting that most people post
closer to the deadline.
The county clerk’s office
does not keep track of auc-
tion sales, but San Antonio-
based company Real Estate
Foreclosures Inc. provides
Ibarra with a complimen-
tary report of monthly
sales. According to the
April report, 48 out of 175
foreclosure listings sold.
Similarly, 57 houses sold
out of 175 posted for the
May auction. In June, 48
houses sold out of 164 list-
ings, Ibarra said.
las and Houston, realtors in-
dicate that 30 to 40 percent
of the homes in the Multi-
ple Listing Service are dis-
tress sales, Gaines said.
Laredo, Webb County
and Texas are faring better
than the rest of the country,
but they are not doing as
well as they once were do-
ing, Gaines said.
According to realty-
trac.com, a Web site that
tracks housing market
trends, Texas trails 26 other
states in terms of foreclo-
sure rates, with Nevada
and California heading the
list. In Nevada, one in every
64 housing units received
foreclosure filings during
May, and in California, it
was one in every 144, ac-
cording to realtytrac.com.
Texas stands at one in
every 961, according to the
Web site.
In Laredo, about 16 per-
cent of houses on the mar-
ket are owned by banks or
lenders, while the rest of
the houses are property of
individual owners, in-
vestors or builders, said
Elizabeth O’Connor from
Coldwell Banker Ana
Ochoa & Co., citing Multi-
ple Listing Service data.
matter what the economy
does,” Poteet said.
However, builders have
been hit by high construc-
tion prices and poor sales.
“A lot of builders are
breaking even,” Poteet said.
Membership at the Lare-
do Builders Association is
currently 35; it has been as
high as 62, Poteet said.
(Julieta Chiquillo may be
reached at 728-2557 or juli-
eta@lmtonline.com )
HELP
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Buyer’s market
Statewide trend
The number of houses
sold in Laredo during the
first four months of the
year dropped from 307 in
2008 to 280 in 2009, accord-
ing to the latest data from
the Real Estate Center at
Texas A&M University.
Real estate prices also
have taken a dive. The me-
dian price for a home in
Laredo in April was
$116,000, down from
$120,800 at that time last
year, according to the Real
Estate Center.
Home values are show-
ing this kind of decline
across the state, partially
due to distress sales, such
as REOs, short sales and
foreclosures, said Jim
Gaines, a research econo-
mist at the Real Estate Cen-
ter.
REOs, or real estate
owned, are properties ac-
quired by a bank or lender
through auction when bids
are not high enough to cov-
er the original loan
amount.
“Theoretically, lenders
will make a bid that is equal
to what is owed to them,”
Gaines said.
Short sales occur when
homeowners sell their
property to avoid foreclo-
sure and the lender accepts
an amount that might be
less than what is owed.
For example, if a person
has a $100,000 mortgage and
the house sells for $90,000 in
a short sale, the lender
agrees to release the person
from the remaining $10,000,
Gaines said. Lenders may
prefer short sales to foreclo-
sures because the former
will save lenders money on
the legal and administra-
tive expenses related to the
foreclosure process, Gaines
said.
Distress sales, combined
with a downward economy
and builders’ excess inven-
tory, are pushing prices
down, Gaines said.
In large markets like Dal-
One real estate indicator
that measures demand in
the housing market is
months of inventory, which
equals the number of hous-
es on the market divided by
the average number of
houses sold monthly. The
market is balanced when
there are six months of in-
ventory.
According to the Real Es-
tate Center, the Laredo
housing market has 8.7
months of inventory.
That’s a buyer’s market,
O’Connor said, denoted by a
number higher than six
months of inventory, mean-
ing there are more sellers
than buyers.
Tight lending reduces
the number of prospective
buyers, O’Connor said.
“Underwriters are ex-
tremely picky about the
loans they give,” she said.
The real estate agency
now closes a sale in 45 days
instead of 30 because of the
additional paperwork re-
quired by increasingly
stringent lenders, O’Con-
nor said.
But the Laredo market is
closer to balance than it
was a few months ago,
Gaines said, noting it had
recorded as many as 9.9
months of inventory in No-
vember.
A market with more sell-
ers than buyers will benefit
buyers because sellers will
lower their prices to get rid
of their excess inventory.
“Right now is a great
time to buy,” Gaines said.
“If you’re a buyer and you
understand the pressures of
the market, you can negoti-
ate a better price.”
taking the blow, since those
properties decrease the val-
ue of surrounding homes.
The Obama administra-
tion’s Making Home Afford-
able program went into ef-
fect in March and aims to
help as many as 9 million
homeowners who are cur-
rent on their mortgage but
struggling with their pay-
ments.
Homeowners may be eli-
gible to refinance their loan
if their mortgage is owned
by Fannie Mae or Freddie
Mac, they are current on
their mortgage and what
they owe on their first mort-
gage is about the same or
slightly less than the cur-
rent house value, among
other requirements.
Refinancing does not re-
duce the principal amount
owed, but it lowers interest
rates, making payments
more affordable, according
to the program’s Web site.
Homeowners whose
mortgage is not owned by
Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac
may be eligible for a loan
modification, which would
temporarily lower their in-
terest rate or extend their
loan term. To apply, home-
owners must be current on
their mortgage payments,
have an unpaid principal
balance less than $729,950
and have mortgage pay-
ments that exceed 31 per-
cent of their monthly pre-
tax income, among other
requisites.
Servicers, the companies
that collect mortgage pay-
ments, are not required to
participate in the program,
but those that do receive
government incentives.
To find out if you’re eligi-
ble for the program, contact
your servicer.
Free counseling is also
available for troubled home-
owners. Laredo-Webb NHS
and the Consumer Credit
Counseling Service of
Greater San Antonio are
two government-approved
housing counselors in the
Laredo area.
To find a government-
approved counselor in your
area, visit www.findafore-
closurecounselor.com or
call 1-888-995-HOPE
For local counseling,
call Laredo-Webb NHS at
712-9100 or the Consumer
Credit Counseling of
Greater San Antonio at 791-
3328
For more information
about foreclosure, visit
www.texasforeclosurehelp.o
rg or www.hud.gov/foreclo-
sure
To report a scam, visit
www.oag.state.tx.us
Taking the hit
Paul Poteet, president of
the Laredo Builders Associ-
ation, said he remains opti-
mistic about the housing
market, noting that border
cities and towns generate
business from federal law
enforcement agents mov-
ing to the area and Mexican
nationals moving across
the border for security rea-
sons. For example, Poteet
said he was acquainted
with the case of a man who
was kidnapped in Mexico
and who bought three hous-
es in McAllen for his fami-
ly, parents and siblings the
week after his release.
“People have needs no