Foreclosures take hard toll

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ATLANTA - Georgia Brooks says she knew she was falling behind on her monthly mortgage payments, but she didn't know until Thursday that her home was slated for sale. That's when a man called after seeing the foreclosure listing in the local legal ads.

Mrs. Brooks joins many Georgians whose monthly house payments are jumping as adjustable-rate loans readjust above previously low, introductory rates. Such homeowners used attractive initial interest rates to take on more expensive homes than they would have otherwise bought with traditional, fixed-rate mortgages.

Many now end up at the courthouse steps where, once a month, foreclosed houses are sold.

Georgia ranks fourth nationally in foreclosures, as 9.9 of every 1,000 people have lost their homes this year, according to the California-based, which tracks properties for real estate investors. Only Louisiana, Michigan and Nevada saw higher rates.

REAL-ESTATE BROKERS and lenders in some parts of the state say the industry's troubles should not worry most homeowners or potential buyers, particularly outside metro Atlanta.

Though the market has dried up for subprime loans, home buyers with solid credit should not have problems getting traditional, 30-year mortgages, said Frank Lee, a loan officer for First Bank Mortgage in Augusta.

"Nothing's really changed for those people," he said. "And their credit doesn't have to be perfect, just average. I would go so far as to say anything (with a credit rating of) 620 or above."

Lenders have tightened up access to loans, said Roger Tutterow, an economics professor at Mercer University, and consumers have noticed.

Dr. Tutterow, who calculates confidence levels of Georgia consumers, expects those numbers to drop in the report he releases this week because the public have heard that loans are harder to get and they sense a greater likelihood that a recession is possible.

"We had to expect that just the swing in housing would take us from strong growth to moderate growth," he said. "What nobody fully anticipated was the degree to which the problems that started with the subprime mortgage market would spill broadly throughout the economy."

Without the credit issues, Dr. Tutterow said, the housing market likely would have bottomed out later this year.

"Because of the credit issue, it probably pushes the recovery in the housing market back to the middle part of 2008 before we start to see real improvement there," he said.

For those like Ms. Brooks who are already facing mortgage default and turning their keys back into the bank, the process can move swiftly in Georgia where no court proceedings are required. The streamlined process leads many borrowers to rush to credit counselors in a last-minute attempt to prevent foreclosure.

"We've seen a doubling of urgent housing counseling sessions over what we saw in 2006," said Todd Mark, the director of consumer relations of Consumer Credit Counseling Service in Atlanta, a nonprofit agency that provides free budget help.

The group is spending most of its time on urgent housing situations, dealing with as many as 2,000 affected people a month.

Mr. Mark said the first thing counselors ask people is whether they have talked with their lender, who can modify the loan's terms or accept reduced payments temporarily to keep the loan from going sour.

"They don't want the home back. They make money by keeping people in their homes and letting them pay back for 15, 20 years. They're more open now than every before," Mr. Mark said. "The last few years, more than 50 percent of foreclosed homeowners never talked to their lender before losing their home."

Reach Vicky Eckenrode at (678) 977-4601 or


Consumer Credit Counseling Service offers urgent housing counseling 24 hours a day. Call (800) 251-2227 or visit the Web site

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