Story highlights

Nevada is state with highest foreclosure rate; Las Vegas is city with most foreclosures

Evicted renter says presidential candidates aren't saying the right things to appeal to her

"Foreclosures are in every type of neighborhood and all price ranges," Realtor says

Cabbie said he had to choose between having a home and having food, and chose food

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Las Vegas CNN —  

Republican presidential candidates are campaigning for votes in a state with an unwelcome, eye-popping first-place record.

For 60 consecutive months, Nevada has had the highest foreclosure rate of any state. That’s five long, painful years.

Not just that; Las Vegas in particular has more foreclosures than any city in the country – one out of every 150 homes are in foreclosure; two out of every three are underwater.

The foreclosure crisis has a seemingly endless ripple effect felt by Nevadans regardless of whether they are homeowners.

A few weeks ago, Karen Torres received notices, taped to her front door and garage, informing her that the house she had rented for more than a year was going into foreclosure. She quickly found out she was being evicted, despite holding a signed renters lease that she says guarantees that wouldn’t happen.

“The economy is so bad right now. I’m doing everything I can to keep my head above water,” said Torres, who works for a time-share company near the Las Vegas Strip.

“I’m at a loss. I don’t even know what to do,” she said, sitting at her kitchen table. “I’m really stressed.”

Torres is a registered independent, but she says the candidates for president aren’t saying the right things to appeal to her right now.

Candidates stump in Nevada ahead of caucuses

As Realtor Paul Bell drives around the residential neighborhood west of downtown Las Vegas, the scope and duration of the crisis are in full view.

“Foreclosures are in every type of neighborhood and all price ranges,” said Bell, who is treasurer of the Nevada Association of Realtors.

Bell took us through the sprawling Summerlin development – built mostly during the housing boom around 2006.

It is the quintessential illustration of what went wrong. People bought brand-new homes in this rapidly expanding part of the country at high prices with loans they ultimately couldn’t afford to pay.

Bell said roughly 50% of the homes in this neighborhood have been foreclosed since the crisis started. Some 70% of the homes in Las Vegas are under water.

Many of those homes have already made it through the pipeline, and swinging “For Sale” signs in front of bank-owned homes aren’t on every street and corner like they were a few years ago here.

The good news is that 2011 was a record-breaking year for sales of existing homes in Nevada. The bad news is the main reason for that record is that homes are being sold at bargain-basement prices.

Bell took us into one beautiful home originally on the market for $800,000. Now, in foreclosure, the list price is under $400,000.

The drop in home prices has had a huge impact on commercial development in the area, too.

When new buyers were paying the market’s peak rates in the boom period in 2006, shopping centers drew up expansion plans to put a high-end department store to anchor the local mall.

But six years later, a lot with the skeleton frame of what was supposed to be a new Nordstrom sits idle, with a chain-link fence around it.

Longtime Remax Realtor Joe Scott took us though another Las Vegas neighborhood called The Lakes.

He said 42 homes are for sale, and 24 are already under contract. Inventory is noticeably lower than it has been in recent years.

But it’s a good news-bad news story: It’s an excellent market for the buyer, but not for the seller.

“There is extremely good pricing now,” Scott said. “In fact, our median sale price is down to $147,000. That’s down from $378,000 in 2005.”

Scott said 50% of all his sales now are cash, and many of the buyers are from around the country, and the world

“Investors are coming in and making their mark now,” he said.

Does Scott see a silver lining now?

“It would be tough to see a silver lining, because a lot of people have been hurt and a lot of people have lost their homes and it’s sad to deal with that on a daily basis when people love their home and have done the best they can and there is no hope for them,” he said.

But he, like several other Realtors and experts living through this sustained crisis, say they do hope and believe people will come out of this understanding how to budget and invest more wisely, and the government and banking system will use more common sense when it comes to regulations and rules that will prevent a housing crash like this from happening again.

Other people living in this harsh reality are less optimistic.

We met a man named Chuck Ackman living in a small tent city on the desert rocks in the shadow of the Las Vegas strip.

He drives a cab for a living and calls being homeless a “choice.”

Some choice: With rents in the $800-per-month range, Ackman said he had to decide between housing and food, and chose food.

“It’s the decision to make. Some of the things you like in life, like my lamb chops, or eating absolutely nothing and going around the food kitchen, in order to live in one of these roach-infested and crack-infested places,” Chuck told us.

“Is it easy living on the [desert] rocks? Hell no,” he said.

And what about presidential politics? Ackman said he is a registered Republican but voted for President Barack Obama four years ago and is highly disappointed; not only because of the horrible economy, but because of what he called the president’s indecisive nature.

Does he like any of the GOP presidential contenders?

Clearly disillusioned, he shrugged and said simply, “not really.”