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Foreclosures up, but not that high

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
June 27, 2009
— We knew the local economy was in trouble, but a recent article in USA Today listed Rock County with the nation's biggest percentage increase in foreclosure actions.

Turns out, that's not true.


USA today cited data from RealtyTrac, a nationwide provider of information on foreclosures. RealtyTrac's numbers showed a nearly 1,400 percent increase in foreclosures in the first four months of this year in Rock County, compared with the first four months of 2008.


USA Today didn't report the numbers used to calculate that huge percentage. When contacted by the Gazette, USA Today reporter Brad Heath said RealtyTrac's data show that Rock County averaged 8 foreclosure actions per month in 2008 and 120 per month in 2009.


The Rock County Clerk of Courts office reports very different numbers: an average 77 per month in 2008 and 112 per month in 2009. That's a 46 percent increase, a far cry from 1,400 percent.


Daren Blomquist of RealtyTrac said the company had incomplete data from Rock County last year.


"It appears that our abstractor collecting the data in this (Rock) county in 2008 was having trouble always matching up the foreclosure notices with addresses because of the way documents are filed in the county," Blomquist wrote in an e-mail from the company's California headquarters.


"We don't count foreclosure notices without a matched address in our report to avoid the risk of counting a property multiple times," Blomquist continued. "Since the beginning of this year, however, the abstractor has developed a better methodology and is able to match more of the foreclosure notices to addresses, which in turn means they are counted in our report.


"I believe that methodology difference may account for much of the discrepancy in the numbers."


RealtyTrac is the best known of companies that track foreclosures, but its methodology has been criticized, Heath acknowledged.


Nevertheless, the data is useful for spotting trends, Heath said.


Morris Davis, assistant professor of real estate and urban land economics at UW-Madison, said he's heard complaints, too.


"The bottom line is that people who try to carefully dig through the data have trouble validating RealtyTrac's numbers," Davis said.


Peter Ritz, a real estate lawyer and lecturer at the UW-Madison School of Business, said in an e-mail that Wisconsin requires foreclosure by lawsuit.


"As a result, the records that you have from the courthouse should be the most reliable statistic concerning foreclosures," Ritz said in an e-mail.



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