Two River Times

Foreclosures Up In Monmouth County

Escaping the worst of financial storm, county still sees numbers rise

The Two River Times — The Week of March 13–20, 2009

By Ken Howitt

MONMOUTH COUNTY HAS escaped the flood of foreclosures affecting other areas of the country, but even this affluent area of the state is seeing an increase in the numbers of homeowners in trouble.

In 2008 New Jersey was number 10 on the list of states experiencing the most foreclosures, with Nevada and Florida topping that list. In 2007, New Jersey ranked 14th.

"In Monmouth County, thankfully, it's not as bad as it is elsewhere in New Jersey," Monmouth County Sheriff Kim Guadagno said during an interview in late January.

In New Jersey, it is the Sheriff's Office that is charged with handling foreclosure proceedings and evictions. and while things here may not be a grim as say Camden or Newark, Guadagno said, Monmouth County, too, has seen an increase in foreclosure writs received by the Sheriff's Office.

Properties in foreclosure are placed on the auction block during Sheriff's Sales conducted each Monday in Freehold.

From 2000-2008, the Sheriff's Office saw an 18.2 percent overall increase in writs of foreclosure, according to information provided by that office. But from 2007-2008, that number jumped to 23.6 percent, with 73.9 percent of the properties going to auction being sold.

Traditionally, there are stopgap measures to prevent owners from losing their homes; but, according to the sheriff, foreclosure cancellations were down last year by 9.96 percent.

In 2008 in Monmouth County, there were 859 foreclosure writs issued and the foreclosures almost exclusively involved residential properties. Two hundred and eighty of those properties were sold while 301 properties subject to foreclosure action were saved from the auction block via mortgage reinstatement, settlement or cancellation.

Another 56 ended up in bankruptcy proceedings, according to the Sheriff's Office.

"There are people I know coming to the front desk," who have received notice of foreclosure, said Guadagno.

"It is a human story with a human face."

Last year in Monmouth County, Howell Township led in the number of foreclosures with 28; the next two closest were Freehold with 24 and Keansburg with 23.

Guadagno suspects that these numbers reflect communities that have many first time homeowners.

Rumson, Spring Lake Heights and Brielle, three very affluent communities, each saw three foreclosures in 2008.

The numbers will undoubtedly go higher in the coming year, despite measures put in place to assist homeowners, Guadagno noted, since it takes approximately 18 months to process and execute foreclosures. "The sub-prime market will hit the Sheriff's Office in 2009," Guadagno said.

Toi Collins, director of housing counseling for the Affordable Housing Alliance of New Jersey, headquartered in Eatontown, added, that she is seeing people who have already received a stay of foreclosure through restructuring or refinancing, and who are now returning for help because one or both homeowners have lost jobs, placing them in extremely precarious positions. "So, a lot of people are hurting that way, too," she said.

Monmouth County may not fare as poorly as other areas of the state, but higher numbers of foreclosure in this relatively affluent county signals trouble for other regions. "As we get bad, they'll get worse," Guadagno said.

"It's awful," said Phyllis Salowe-Kaye, who is executive director for New Jersey Citizen Action, a Newark-based, not-for-profit advocacy and counseling organization that assists homeowners facing the loss of their homes. Salowe-Kaye has worked in the field for 35 years. In an interview conducted in February, she offered her assessment of the current situation throughout the state.

"We have people hanging from the ceiling, waiting for us when we get in, in the morning," she said. "The peak has not even begun."

Those facing the prospect of foreclosure have five options, Salowe-Kaye explained. The homeowner could seek refinancing; working with the lender to restructure the mortgage; enter into a "short sale," where the property is sold for less than it's worth, which sometimes satisfies the lender (though, of course, it means the homeowner loses the home and must move); deed in lieu of foreclosure, where the property just gets signed over to the lender: or an outright sale.

The options available would vary depending on the individual homeowner's financial situation. But Salowe-Kaye said her organization strives to find ways to keep people in their homes, if possible.

And who are these homeowners? "They are seniors; they are low-income people, they are moderate income people," Salowe-Kaye said.

"And now we're seeing people coming in from suburban areas, who are more upper-income," she added. "We're seeing much more of that."

Her office has even assisted people who live in Short Hills, one of the most affluent communities in the state, Salow-Kaye said.

Top Top | NJCA in the News | NJCA Homepage