For at least the third year in a row, the number of local homes going into foreclosure has fallen.

In 2016, 375 properties were set for sheriff sale, which is one of the first steps of the foreclosure process. That was a drop of nearly 20 percent from 2015, when 467 were set for sheriff sale.

The same was true in counties across central Indiana, including Hamilton, Hendricks and Marion counties, but Johnson County had a larger drop than in those counties, according to data from sheriff’s offices.

The total for 2016 was the lowest Johnson County had hit in years and was down from a high of 1,241 in 2010.

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One of the key reasons for the drop: more strict regulations on mortgages and who can be approved, a local bank president said.

Lending institutions have to follow more strict requirements when approving mortgages than they did in the years leading up to the recession, and that is a good change, said Bob Heuchan, president of Mutual Savings Bank. The Franklin-based bank has had few foreclosures, and was already following the requirements that are now being more strictly enforced, he said.

Most of the foreclosures being filed now are still a result of the practices used before the recession, when lending institutions nationwide were approving loans they shouldn’t, Heuchan said.

But now those numbers are dropping because those practices are not allowed anymore, he said.

“There is a lot of emphasis on lending the right way,” Heuchan said.

That means requiring down payments and a closer examination of a borrower’s debt to income ratio to make sure people can truly afford their loans. And making sure all the details of each loan, such as how an adjustable interest rate works, are clear to the borrower, Heuchan said.

Those were requirements in the past, but were not being closely followed, he said.

And that also means that some people aren’t approved to buy a home, and that isn’t a bad change either, Heuchan said.

“It’s not always the best thing for everybody to own a house,” Heuchan said.

“Sometimes people aren’t ready.”

People need to plan to buy a home, by saving a down payment, making sure their credit is good and preparing to afford the payments, he said. And that is something real estate agents are also sticking to: making sure potential buyers are getting pre-approval for a loan before ever making an offer, he said.

Heuchan is hopeful these are all changes that will stay, so the same issues won’t crop up again from the past.

“Hopefully, that is one huge lesson learned,” Heuchan said.

At a glance

Here is a look at the number of homes set for sheriff sale in 2016, which is one of the first steps in foreclosure. Homes can be removed before the sale, and some can be listed more than once.

Location;2013;2014;2015;2016

Johnson County;1,002;570;467;375

Marion County;6,573;4,274;3,603;3,264

Hendricks County;890;624;427;376

Hamilton County;1,089;779;588;486

SOURCES: County sheriff’s offices

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Annie Goeller is managing editor of the Daily Journal. She can be reached at agoeller@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2718.