Walt Cook, The Union Democrat

Last year was one of the toughest in decades for those looking to sell a home, but 2010, if current foreclosure rates hold, is shaping up to be even tougher.

For buyers, though, the news of weaker home prices may be easier to swallow. Case in point: A manufactured home on 2.6 acres in Jamestown sold this year for $20,000. Such a deal would have been unheard of during the peak of the recent housing bubble, which burst nationwide in 2008.

Most of the good buys are foreclosed homes. And their low prices are

having a ripple effect on the entire local housing market, say housing

experts, with market-rate sellers forced to compete with foreclosure


Tuolumne County's median home price, according to the county

Assessor-Recorder's Office, is $219,000 - far below the county's peak

in 2006 of $330,000.

According to Assessor-Recorder statistics, more foreclosure filings

have been recorded in the first quarter of 2010 than the first quarter

of 2009, which was a record-breaking year going back at least to the

1980s. Local foreclosure data beyond the 1980s was not readily


The first quarter of 2009 in Tuolumne County saw 391 foreclosure

filings, compared to 434 in the first quarter of this year. At the

current pace, 2010 will see 1,736 foreclosure filings by year's end;

2009 saw 1,657 filings in all.

The figures take into account all stages of the foreclosure

process, including the notice of default, notice of trustee sale and

the transfer of the property to the bank.

Calaveras County is seeing a similar rise in foreclosure numbers.

Foreclosures are so high there that the Calaveras County Water District

has taken a funding hit as people abandon their homes following


Ann Ritchie, head of the Tuolumne County Association of Realtors,

sees two things contributing to the current high rate of foreclosures.

One big factor is loans with teaser rates and interest-only loans

that have adjusted, sending monthly payments higher. Homebuyers with

such loans were often told they could simply refinance to get a better

deal prior to the rate increase - or, better yet, sell their home at a

big profit, Ritchie said.

The other factor is job loss, she said.

In Tuolumne County - excluding the Lake Don Pedro, Groveland and

Big Oak Flat areas - 124 homes have been sold in the past year through

the local multiple-listing service, a real estate broker sale

cooperative, according to Ritchie.

Of those, 50 were bank-owned - that is, foreclosed properties - and

15 were short-sales, homes sold for less than the remaining balance on

the mortgage. Short sales are usually done when a property is nearing

foreclosure and a bank is desperate to salvage some part of its


Of the homes sold through the Tuolumne County multiple-listing

service in the past year, 58 cost between $200,000 and $300,000; 18

were over $300,000 and 10 were under $100,000.

The cheapest property sold was the $20,000 Jamestown property. It

was followed by a $32,000 home on .21 acres and a $56,000 home on .31

acres, both of which are located just outside Sonora.

In other words, Ritchie said, "It's at the lower end that we're seeing sales."

Buyers are also eyeing foreclosed subdivisions. For instance, the

foreclosed Lakeside Estates subdivision near Tulloch Reservoir was

purchased last week for $800,000. Also, developers recently submitted

plans to Tuolumne County to turn a property near Big Oak Flat known as

The Scar - due to failed site plans over the years – into a bus-staging

area for Yosemite and a site littered with visitor amenities.

Other recent big foreclosures include the Greenley Oaks

subdivision, just off Cabezut Road near Sonora, and Sonora Meadows

subdivision off of Jamestown Road. Both pieces of land went into

foreclosure last fall.

Ritchie suspects there are even more foreclosures out there that

aren't showing up in official statistics. Chris Garnin, a broker

with Coldwell Banker Segerstrom in Sonora, wouldn't be surprised to see

more foreclosed properties snatched up simply because they're a great

buying opportunity.

"There are tremendous price incentives in their inventory right

now," he said. In addition, interest rates are extremely low, Garnin

said, though, he added, due to tighter lending standards, not everyone

can take advantage of the rates.

"There's been a return to old standards," he said.

The federal government, he noted, has also created an $18,000

first-time homebuyer credit, which, according to Garnin, is


"It's a great time to be a buyer," he said.