The number of foreclosed homes in Jackson County has dropped to a level not seen here in more than a decade.

Through Tuesday afternoon, 114 homes were listed in foreclosure in 2014, according to filings

made in Jackson Superior and Circuit courts. Last year, 139 foreclosures were filed.

Local real estate agents and bankers said the trend indicates a more stable local economy and housing market and more importantly means fewer families are losing their homes.

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“It’s nothing more than the improvement in the economy,” Kevin Gabbard, vice president commercial banker at MainSource in Seymour, said of the numbers.

He also credits the downward swing to tighter lending practices as regulated by the federal government and more conscientious consumers.

“Folks have gotten more savvy about their personal debt,” he said. “Pair that with the fact that more people are back to work, and full employment at that, and it reflects in the number of foreclosures.”

Foreclosures started rising eight years ago, climbing from 149 in 2005 to a high of 278 during the middle of the recession in 2008. In that span, 834 area homes, or an average of 209, a year were reported as foreclosures in the county.

Comparatively, 667 foreclosures have been filed since 2011.

Jeff Nolting, vice president of retail lending at JCB, echoed Gabbard’s sentiments.

“It’s not really a surprise,” he said “We’ve been trending that way for several years now.”

JCB hasn’t experienced a lot of foreclosures in recent years, he added.

Shelli Plummer, an associate broker with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Indiana Realty in Seymour, specializes in the sale of foreclosed homes. She said she was somewhat surprised by the numbers.

Although the local unemployment rate is down and mortgage interest rates continue to stay low, Plummer said the foreclosure market remains strong here.

“From what I’m seeing, I wouldn’t say we’re down,” she said. “There are still vacant homes, but some of those are from the year before. Some have been vacant for two or more years.”

Without researching the numbers, Plummer said she wasn’t sure how Jackson County compares to state and national foreclosure rates, but she thought local numbers could be higher.

The state’s overall foreclosure rate has improved, dropping 2.5 percentage points between 2011 through mid-2014, according to a report from Matt Kinghorn, an economist with the Indiana Business Research Center at Indiana University. The state has improved from having the nation’s ninth-highest foreclosure rate to the 18th-highest, according to the report.

Plummer said there are advantages and disadvantages to having a strong foreclosure market. Many foreclosed homes are purchased at a low price at sheriff’s sales and turned into rental homes, but some investors are fixing up foreclosures to sell to first-time homebuyers.

“That’s a great thing for Jackson County,” she said. “It enables first-time buyers to get a mortgage.”

But first-time buyers today face greater scrutiny by lenders than in the past.

“It’s shocking to people some of the requirements and additional things they are being asked for,” Gabbard said.

In today’s market, prospective homebuyers need a good credit score, generally 650 or above, and to make a down payment of around

3 percent. Otherwise, buyers can expect higher interest rates and monthly payments and may not get approved.

Plummer doesn’t think foreclosed homes have much impact on the overall area housing market. She said foreclosed homes, when bought, are fixed up by investors to help stabilize home prices.

“They don’t like to put on a discounted price,” she said. “So they are making repairs to get that home closer to the average price so it doesn’t drive down the area market.”

Based on the number of upcoming sheriff’s sales, which is the final step in the foreclosure process, Plummer said the county likely will continue to have a strong foreclosure presence in 2015.

“There are 13 scheduled in January and 14 set for February,” she said. “If it were just a couple, I would say we are doing good, but that’s still pretty high.”

However, Gabbard said he thinks 2015 will see even fewer foreclosures.

“I think we’re going to see the trend continue,” he said. “I’m expecting a strong year in the residential real estate market.”

Nolting said JCB is seeing more people in the market to buy.

“It’s been all about refinancing, but a lot of people are wanting to purchase a home now,” he said. “It’s a sign of the economy.”

He too expects the trend to continue into the new year.

“We’re fortunate to be in the market we are,” he said. “We have a strong manufacturing base here that supports that.”

Pull Quote

“Folks have gotten more savvy about their personal debt. Pair that with the fact that more people are back to work, and full employment at that, and it reflects in the number of foreclosures.”

Kevin Gabbard, vice president commercial banker at MainSource in Seymour

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January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.