According to the Calhoun County Probate Office, the county had 79 foreclosures in January, February and March, the same amount the county had during the same period last year. Meanwhile, the county had 894 mortgages in the first quarter, an increase from the 790 mortgages it had during the same quarter last year. For some housing and financial experts, the stagnant foreclosure growth and increased mortgages signifies improvement and growing confidence in the area housing market.
Foreclosures have been a persistent problem for the housing industry since the 2008 recession, driving down home sales prices. In addition, the recession caused demand for homes to shrink, further hurting housing markets.
Everett King of ERA King Real Estate in Anniston said the latest figures indicate high or growing foreclosure rates in the county are coming to an end.
"These things have all but worked themselves out of the system," King said. "As foreclosures go away, that changes the average and median sales prices."
King said he expected foreclosure rates in the county to be at their more normal, pre-recession level by the end of the year.
Sales figures from the Multiple Listing Service show that Calhoun County homes sold for an average of $102,883 during the first quarter of 2013, an increase from the about $100,400 average sales price during the same quarter last year.
The county housing market, however, appears to still be on the low end of foreclosure recovery compared to many other parts of the country.
National housing market tracker RealtyTrac reports that in February, the number of foreclosures in the U.S. was 25 percent lower than the same month last year.
King said it is no surprise the area is behind other parts of the country in terms of a shrinking foreclosure market.
"Alabama is the last to enter something good or bad and the last to leave something good or bad," King said. "We're just like everybody else, it just happens to us later."
Leonard Zumpano, professor of finance at the University of Alabama and the chair of real estate economics for the Alabama Association of Realtors, said housing markets across much of the country have improved in recent months.
"There is no question about it; sales are going up and foreclosures are going down," Zumpano said. "Some banks have been willing to refinance again."
Shad Williams, president and CEO of Cheaha Bank in Oxford, said his bank has seen an increase in mortgage activity in recent months, a sign of improvement in the housing market.
"There is a lot of refinances and a fair amount of purchases," Williams said. "There seem to be more purchases than in the past."
Williams said restrictions on mortgage underwriting have started loosening up, giving more people the opportunity to buy a house. He said record low interest rates have helped too.
"In 2008, restrictions were too loose and in 2011 and part of 2012, they were too restrictive," Williams said. "Now things are starting to ease up ... the pendulum has swung back closer to the center."
Williams said he expects business to continue improving through the rest of the year.
"We had some growth in 2012 and now we are seeing a continuation of that," he said.
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.