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Economy starting to hit closer to home for deputy who handles foreclosures in Walworth County

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Pedro Oliveira Jr.
June 20, 2010
— For Deputy Brian Schmieden, foreclosures are hitting closer to home.

“When I started this job eight years ago, it was people that you never heard of,” said Schmieden, one of the three sheriff’s deputies who handle foreclosures in Walworth County. “It was just nameless, faceless people.


“Now, the house down the street from mine is on foreclosure. It’s three houses down from me, right in the same neighborhood.”


In 2009, foreclosures in Walworth County went up by more than 42 percent, according to the most recent report from the sheriff’s office. The value of foreclosed homes went from $50.7 million in 2008 to $65 million in 2009.


Compared to 2007, the numbers are even more troublesome. That year, 291 homes were foreclosed at a $29.1 million value—almost half of the number of homes foreclosed in 2009.


“Next year, we’re going to be close to 700 homes,” Schmieden said after analyzing projections for 2010.


Pinpointing a cause is always difficult, Schmieden said, but most of the foreclosures that cross his desk seem to be a combination of people who overextended themselves financially and folks who lost their jobs.


UW-Whitewater economics professor Russ Kashian said the trend is not getting worse, but it will be a while before things get back on track.


“And until people start going back to work, you’re not going to see anything get better,” he added.


Kashian, whose department leads foreclosure data analysis in Wisconsin, said studies show that for every percentage increase in unemployment, the percentage of people losing their homes to foreclosure goes up by about 5 percent.


Between 2007 and 2009, unemployment in Walworth County has gone from 4 percent to 9 percent, the professor said.


“Just in the unemployment area, you’re going to see a 25 percent increase in the number of foreclosures,” he added. “And then you have other factors.”


The issue isn’t just homes being foreclosed. There are fewer buyers in the market.


“When the economy was doing well, we’d have five, six bidders here,” Schmieden said of sheriff’s office sales of foreclosed homes. “The people we had before, who used to show up regularly, they don’t show up anymore.”


The number of foreclosure sales is significantly higher in the southeastern quarter of Walworth County, which in 2009 made up 43 percent of all sales.


Most seem to be timeshares at resorts in the Lake Geneva area, Schmieden said.


“That accounts for a lot of the numbers on the southeast,” he said. “We have some vacation homes, but I couldn’t tell you what percentage it would be.”


So far this year, the northern half of Walworth County has 131 homes scheduled for foreclosure sales; the southeastern portion has 189 and the southwestern area has 203.


Kashian said his prediction is that 2010 is going to resemble 2009 in the rate of foreclosures. Things may improve by 2011 if the economy improves and people start going back to work.


Schmieden has worked at the sheriff’s office for 25 years, the last eight as a process specialist. Along with two other deputies, he handles foreclosures, evictions, summonses, subpoenas and repossessions.


When he first started, Schmieden said, the office handled 150 to 200 foreclosures each year.


Since May this year, he already has posted 40 new foreclosure notices.


At one point, one of his colleagues handled the foreclosure of Schmieden’s cousin.


“It’s really hard to handle these cases, especially evictions,” he said. “It’s even worse when people have been living there for so many years.”



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