Some top real estate consultants have forecast that banks will flood the nationwide market with foreclosed homes later this year, driving down prices in the process, but the picture in Orange County may not be so clear.
Orange County prices in certain areas, particularly at the higher end, have lower rates of foreclosures, and banks are less likely to release their inventory all at once, local experts say.
That means it may not make sense to sell in anticipation of a flooded market that may or may not materialize.
Esmael Adibi, director of the Gary Anderson Center for Economic Analysis at Chapman University, said there are about 17,000 homes listed for sale countywide. In addition to that, 5,000 homes were foreclosed on by lenders.
But he doesn't expect banks to release the inventory all at once.
"If 5,000 units show up in the marketplace at one time, it will put a downward pressure on the prices," he said. "I do not believe that the financial institutions see this as a wise move — to bring the entire inventory to the marketplace in a month or two."
Steven Thomas, president of Altera Real Estate in Newport Beach, said he agrees with Adibi.
"There will not be a surge in foreclosure activity, as the banks are not in a hurry to foreclose on America," he said.
High-end sections of Orange County may not have as many foreclosures because of high home prices, said Leslie Appleton-Young, chief economist at the California Assn. of Realtors.
"It really depends on what type of bracket you're looking at," she said. "The bulk of foreclosure (activity) has been in the moderate- to low-end priced part of the market."
Wealthier owners are sometimes — but not always — more insulated from economic turns. There have, of course, been high-profile foreclosures in Newport Beach, but the bulk of the problems appear to be at lower price points than one of the nation's most expensive markets.
The number of foreclosed homes in Orange County might greatly differ from the numbers in another county or state because home prices in the county tend to be in the moderate- to the high-end bracket. Prices in coastal Orange County tend to be higher, and potentially less vulnerable to foreclosure than in some interior communities.
"When you're looking at Orange County, you have to be very, very careful," Appleton-Young said. "It's very difficult to generalize about a county as a whole. You need to look behind the numbers."
Generally speaking, homeowners should only sell if they have to, Adibi said, adding that when people buy homes they plan to live in they should not only look at them as investments.
Homeowners should first weigh their options and the circumstances they are dealing with, he said.
"If somebody is out of their job, if they can't afford the monthly payment, then yes, they maybe have to sell," Adibi said. "If they do not have the urgency, then there's no rush to sell."
Thomas said when interest rates rise, and they are likely to rise in the next few years, buyers will lose purchasing power.
And therefore, this could be the best time to buy, not sell.
"People are taking interest rates for granted," he said. "It's a great time to buy."