The quiet corner of northwest Ohio that gave the world Dum Dum Pops and the Etch-A-Sketch achieved a less desirable distinction last year.
Home foreclosures in Williams County, including the city of Bryan, skyrocketed 1,829 percent, giving the county the highest rate of increase of any in northwest Ohio or southeast Michigan, according to a report by the online tracking service RealtyTrac Inc.
Normally accustomed to a handful of such filings, homeowners in the county that shares a border with both Michigan and Indiana were the subject of 135 foreclosure filings, including bank default notices, auction sales, and repossessions. That represented nearly 1 percent of households in the 39,000-resident county.
The foreclosure problem in metro Toledo has grabbed the bulk of headlines locally.
And while no surrounding county approaches the numbers here, foreclosure is a growing problem in many smaller communities, according to the report for The Blade by RealtyTrac.
The automotive industry struggle and the other job losses throughout the area have had a ripple effect on smaller counties, experts have said.
"When you have problems with your economy, you're going to see that in the real estate market as well," said agent Mary Halstead, of Tri-Pro Realty in Tiffin.
Foreclosure filings in Seneca County, which is home to Tiffin, rose 1,015 percent in 2008, with 1.23 percent of houses at some stage of foreclosure. The county had 301 filings last year, up from 27 in 2007, RealtyTrac found.
The online firm reported that
Lucas County had the highest rate of foreclosure filings in Ohio with 3.36 percent of houses at some stage of the process.
That was a more dire picture than was presented in a RealtyTrac report last week. That report found that metro Toledo overall - Lucas and three other counties - ranked third behind Akron and No. 1 metro Cleveland. The percentage of homes in foreclosure in metro Toledo was 2.67.
Although the numbers are high, the new report, which covers 16 counties in Ohio and three in Michigan, found that foreclosures are growing at a slower rate in Lucas County than many other places in northwest Ohio. They rose 30 percent in the county last year.
Meanwhile, in 13 of 19 regional counties studied, filings more than doubled last year from the year before.
Among Ohio counties, Williams, Seneca, Defiance, Erie, Huron, and Paulding had increases exceeding 200 percent.
In Michigan, filings rose 1,538 percent in Hillsdale County to 131; climbed 310 percent in Lenawee County to 254; and increased 8 percent in Monroe County to 480. Yet those numbers translated to less than 1 percent of households in foreclosure in those counties.
"The people who are affected are heartbroken," observed Starley Cannon, an agent with ReMax Realty in Findlay. Foreclosures in Hancock County, of which Findlay is the county seat, jumped 104 percent to 519 houses comprising 1.58 percent of total households.
Mortgage-holders have become more willing to sell at a loss before cases go to court, she said. And falling mortgage interest rates are starting to boost sales in the area, she added.
When Michael Heldman took over as sheriff in Hancock a dozen years ago, the county sold about 36 foreclosed homes a year at periodic auctions. Now, auctions are held weekly, and the number of sales has soared to about 300.
"We have a clerk assigned to the sheriff's sales and foreclosures," Mr. Heldman said.
The prosecutor in Wood County, adjoining Toledo, has hired a clerk to handle foreclosures, said Jill Engle, county treasurer. Filings there grew by 199 percent to 678 in 2008.
Foreclosures declined in only one northwest Ohio county last year. In Putnam, a heavily agricultural area in the southern part of the region, filings slipped 54 percent to 36.
Just one quarter of 1 percent of homes are in foreclosure, ranking Putnam 78th out of 88 Ohio counties.
"It's the whole mode of the county," said real estate agent Marnie Ebbesmier, of Noakes-Rooney & Associates Realty.
"It's family oriented. Some people who get in trouble probably help each other. There is a strong work ethic. People are very conservative with their finances."
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