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Foreclosures Appear to Be Stabilizing

Foreclosure filings fell a dramatic 35 percent in July to the lowest level in nearly four years as lenders and state and federal agencies ramped up their efforts to keep delinquent borrowers in their homes, according to RealtyTrac Inc.  A total of 212,764 properties received default, auction or repossession notices, the lowest number in 44 months.  Filings declined on a year- over-year basis for the 10th consecutive month, and were down four percent when compared with June.  One in every 611 households across the country received a notice.  “The downward trend in foreclosure activity has now taken on a life of its own,” RealtyTrac Chief Executive Officer James J. Saccacio said.  “Unfortunately, the fall-off in foreclosures is not based on a robust recovery in the housing market but on short-term interventions and delays that will extend the current housing market woes into 2012 and beyond.  It appears that processing delays, combined with the smorgasbord of national and state-level foreclosure prevention efforts, may be allowing more distressed homeowners to stave off foreclosure.” 

Nevada leads the nation with the highest foreclosure rate of any state, one filing for every 115 homes.  California, with one foreclosure for every 239 homes came in second, while Arizona, with one in every 273 homes, was third.  Las Vegas continued to record the nation’s highest foreclosure rate, with one in every 99 homes getting a foreclosure filing in July. 

Foreclosure auctions, the final step in the agonizing foreclosure process were also scheduled on five percent fewer properties in July.  The month’s auction total hit a three-year low and was nearly half (46 percent) below the March, 2010, peak.  An estimated four million vacant homes not yet accounted for by lenders constitute an immense inventory of residential properties, approximately 2.2-million of which are in default and have not yet been formally foreclosed known as the “shadow inventory” weigh down the marketplace. 

The Obama administration is proactively seeking ways to dispose of foreclosed homes that are under government control.  The goal is to “bring stability and liquidity” to the housing market, Edward J. DeMarco, acting director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), said.  The FHFA regulates Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which guarantee approximately 90 percent of American mortgages.  President Obama has proposed a program to encourage the rental of foreclosed homes owned by the Federal Housing Administration, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac.  Banks could adopt similar programs and offer homes at steep discounts to get residential real estate off their books.  Financial institutions typically get lucrative write-offs from these and so might prefer to rent some properties.  Other federal attempts to prop up the housing market have not been successful to date.  The Making Home Affordable Program operation was launched in March of 2009 with the main component the Home Affordable Modification Program.  This was created to cut mortgage payments for families who couldn’t afford them, but wanted to keep their houses.  A Congressional Oversight Panel report said the programs had failed and fell far short of its goal to modify mortgages for three million to four million homes.  The new Obama plan to rent foreclosed homes has the potential to positively impact home prices.

Writing on MSNBC, John W. Schoen says that “A sharp slowdown in the pace of home foreclosures may help ease the financial burden on bankers by helping them unload a glut of repossessed homes more slowly and delay booking losses from the sale of distressed properties.  But it will do little to help millions of Americans families at risk of being tossed from their homes in the next few years.  The slowdown follows a wave of legal challenges by homeowners that has all but shut down the machinery of bank repossession in some states.  Some homeowners are disputing the widespread practice of ‘robo-signing’, in which lenders process batches of foreclosure fillings with little or no formal review.  Other homeowners have successfully halted repossessions by questioning shoddy paperwork or broken paper trails that don’t establish clear title to a property.  The slowdown has left millions of American households in legal limbo, prolonged the housing market’s four-year recession and delayed hopes for a broader economic recovery.” 

“The process has more or less ground to a halt in a lot of states that do foreclosures through the court system,” said Rick Sharga, a senior vice president at RealtyTrac.

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