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Ocean City beset by foreclosures

The road on the left is Coastal Highway, bordered by the hotels and condos that, in good times, are full of the beach-going vacationers that drive Ocean City’s economy. The sign shows that even as tourists trickle back to Maryland’s beach town, Ocean City still has a long way to go to recovery.

This picture was taken outside the Long & Foster office at the corner of 118th Street and Coastal Highway after a drive through town last week. The south end of the main drag was full of “Vacancy” signs on the hotels closer to the Route 50 bridge. It was a weekday, of course, but the week of July 4 is primo vacation time.

Agents inside the office were good to the sign’s word, handing out packets with a dozen foreclosure listings. There’s a two bedroom, two-bath condo two blocks from the beach listed at $92,000. Two bedrooms, two baths and your own dock will run you $265,000. That one is two blocks from the beach, too, and a little larger and a little newer.

If you want waterfront, try two bedrooms and two baths in a bay-front condo for $309,900.

The packet of 12 foreclosure listings doesn’t look too daunting, but Realtor Mike Kowalski — his business card reads “BIG” Mike Kowalski — said those are just a drop in the bucket of 1,300 active foreclosures in Ocean City.

Kowalski said the buyers are starting to come back but are more cautious given the uncertain path of the economic recovery and the more stringent requirements instituted by mortgage firms burned by under-qualified borrowers in the run-up to the bursting of the housing bubble.

Part of the frustration real estate agents experience now is actually due to the rebound in tourism. There were about 70,000 more people in Ocean City in May 2011 than there were in May 2010, according the city. More tourists mean higher occupancy rates, which mean less time for realtors to show off properties on the market.

Kowalski said during this time of year, sometimes the only available time is midday Saturday in the hours between the end of one rental and the start of the next.

“You have to dodge the vacuum cleaners,” he said.