Ravalli County Clerk and Recorder Regina Plettenberg counts 388 trustee sale notices filed with the county over the last year. That's more than one a day, and a tragic indicator of rampant foreclosures in the Bitterroot.
Since early November 2008, notices of sale for foreclosed properties in Ravalli County have spiked 186 percent over the previous year and 260 percent over 2007. Plettenberg says the county filed as few as 84 notices in 2006.
"It's very sad, especially in a small community like down here in Ravalli," Plettenberg says. "It's hard when you see a lot of these names of people you know. It's very hard."
Plettenberg didn't have statistics for how many notices have concluded in sales, but says anecdotally that those figures have increased as well.
"Back in '04–05, we rarely saw those trustee's deeds," Plettenberg says. "Now we see them more and more."
The bump in foreclosures in the Bitterroot has spawned a highly competitive real estate market, and agencies that once shied away from trading foreclosed homes are now getting their hands dirty. Merle Unruh, owner of Montana Westgate Realty, says his office dealt with 15 to 20 foreclosed properties in the last year. Before 2008, Unruh hadn't dealt with a single foreclosure in several years.
"We've had three orders within the past seven days to go out and inspect for occupancy status and determine secure, vacant premises," Unruh says. "You definitely don't want to treat those folks with disrespect. Most of them are well-meaning and just caught in this economic difficulty."
Plettenberg says the stories she hears from people checking on the status of sales are "heartbreaking." Just last week Plettenberg spoke with a lady who had managed to catch up with her mortgage payments and wanted to make sure the sale notice was cancelled.
"She was telling me, though, that she was afraid it was just going to start all over again," Plettenberg says. "They didn't know how they were going to keep the property. A lot of people are really trying to stay in their homes, they just don't know how they're going to do it."