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Foreclosures Drop to 5-Year Low, Caution Remains

Written By:
March 19, 2013 at 1:35 AM

Across the US, foreclosures have dropped nearly 29% compared to the same in 2012. Is the lowest rate of foreclosure activity since 2007 and it comes in the midst of war effort by state legislatures and courts to regulate property seizures after more than 4.5 million Americans lost their homes between 2007 and 2012.

According to information released by Irvine, California-based RealtyTrac, home repossessions totaled 45,038 in February-- an 11% decrease compared to January. It represents the fewest numbers of foreclosures since September 2007. Foreclosures in Oregon dropped to 78%. Massachusetts experienced the next highest highest decrease in foreclosures at 69%.

Judicial foreclosure effect

RealtyTrac vice president Daren Blomquist states that the foreclosure crisis, which contributed to home prices falling plummeting an average of 34% across the nation, has finally been contained. "But dangerous foreclosure flare-ups are still popping up in states where foreclosures have been delayed by a lengthy court process or by new legislation making it more difficult to foreclose outside of the court system," said Blomquist.

In the 24 states that have judicial foreclosure, lenders must file litigation in the county where the property is located to secure the right to foreclose on homeowners in default. Consequently, the judicial foreclosure process takes longer compared to a non-judicial foreclosure proceeding, which does not require court supervision.

In the fourth quarter of 2012, the average time it takes to process a court-approved foreclosure—from the initial notice to the actual repossession—toll 414 days. In some cases, home repossession has taken as much as three years. Non-judicial states like Delaware, Texas, and Virginia average less than five months to complete the foreclosure process.

Legislation to Prevent Unfair Foreclosure Activities

In addition to judicial foreclosure process causing delays and creating a shadow inventory of distressed properties, new state legislation makes it more challenging and time-consuming to foreclose on homeowners with delinquent mortgage payments. Florida, California, Nevada, and Oregon have introduced legislation or enacted such laws over the past several months.

Mortgage Refinancing Programs Effect

The federal mortgage refinancing program, designed for homeowners who have underwater home loans, has significantly impacted foreclosure-related activities. In 2012, nearly1.1 million homeowners received financial relief through the Home Affordable Refinance Program or HARP 2.0.

After its initial introduction in 2009, HARP has several revisions, including eliminating the 80% loan- to-debt ratio requirement and easing credit and income criteria. Last year, twice the number of borrowers refinanced from high interest rate mortgages into low interest rate mortgage products compared to 2011.

Based on the program objectives, the average borrower who refinances their home mortgage saves up to $3,000 a year on their monthly mortgage payments. A report by the Federal Housing Finance reveals that 68% of the mortgage refinances that occurred in Nevada were through the heart program. Florida followed with 58% of its mortgage refinancing completion going through HARP mortgage program.

Short Sales and Underwater Mortgages

Despite the astounding number of foreclosures in 2012, mortgage lenders foreclosed on fewer homes then the preceding year and agreed to more short sales. This change of business policy underlies acknowledgement by many lenders that it costs less to approve homeowners’ request for short sale transactions than foreclosing on the properties.

ReatyTrac expects short sale activity to continue in 2013. This is especially true after Uncle Sam extended the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act, which eliminates any tax consequences of banks writing off borrowers’ mortgage debt.

The company expects somewhere between 500,000 and 600,000 foreclosed homes in 2013. The issue of homeowners who still have underwater mortgages remains--with 26% of all homeowners with a mortgage (10.9 million borrowers) carrying home loans that are 25% or more higher that the current market value of their homes.





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