by Jordan Green

AmEx closing may worsen foreclosures

Going strictly by the numbers, a look at the NC Administrative Office of Courts tabulation of foreclosures filed across the state through the end of March suggests the state may have turned a corner. In most counties the number of foreclosures in 2011 is on track to come in under recordsetting filings last year.

Peter Laroche, president and CEO of Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Forsyth County doesn’t think those numbers accurately predict the future.

“Last year, with this robo-signing issue, there was an investigation by attorneys general that stalled some of the foreclosure filings,” Laroche said. “A lot of lenders are carrying non-performing assets, and the regulators are putting pressure on them to clear them out. It is anticipated that the pace will pick up again. We will have a record year statewide and certainly here in Forsyth.”

No county in North Carolina has been hit harder by the foreclosure crisis than Mecklenburg, where Charlotte is located. Charlotte made a dramatic shift from prosperity to recession, compared to rural counties that were already struggling and did not have significant real estate investment in the past decade.

“What used to be a housing crisis is now a jobs crisis,” said Jeff Shaw, who has tracked foreclosures for the NC Justice Center. “While the numbers are improving in most North Carolina counties, we find that in the few counties where the numbers are improving, there are continuing high rates of unemployment.”

Laroche said Forsyth and Guilford counties will likely experience rising unemployment this year, with 1,400 people being laid off from the American Express call center near Piedmont Triad International Airport through November.

Even without factoring in the phased closure of American Express’ west Guilford facility or the temporary lull because of the state attorneys general investigation, the first three months of this year showed foreclosures rising more dramatically in Forsyth than neighboring Guilford.

No one seems to know why.

“The only thing I could come up with is there’s more diversification and less concentration of industry in Guilford County,” real estate investor Garfield Duncan said. “When Hanes lays off, they lay off in the hundreds and the thousands.