The foreclosure process in the US is slowing, enabling delinquent borrowers to stay in their homes for months after they stop making mortgage payments, according to one of the largest lenders.
Freddie Mac, one of the two government-owned entities that finance about half all US mortgages, says that homes are taking as long as eight months to work their way through its foreclosure pipeline, two months longer than was typical before the housing crisis began.
The delay is the result of more borrowers staying in their homes for months after foreclosure proceedings have begun, requiring Freddie Mac to evict them before it can put those homes back on the market.
Fannie Mae, the other government-owned mortgage finance company, declined to say how long its process took.
A record number of foreclosures is contributing to the slowdown, but so are mounting legal questions surrounding bank procedures to repossess homes from delinquent borrowers. Some 6.7 million homes are either in some stage of delinquency or foreclosure, and nearly 30 percent of all home sales are of distressed properties, according to Core Logic, a real estate data tracker. In some hard hit markets, such as Phoenix, Arizona, the number is far higher.
“People understand that it’s difficult for lenders to get them out of their homes, and so they are staying longer,” said Mark Zandi, of Moody’s economy.com. “In the past, if you got an eviction notice, you were likely to leave quickly. Now people are staying until there is a sheriff at their door.”
Some sheriffs are refusing to evict homeowners, following disclosures in court depositions that banks flouted state laws by filing thousands of foreclosure documents without verifying the accuracy of the information they contained. A Chicago-area sheriff has ordered deputies to stop carrying out foreclosure evictions over concerns that banks may be reclaiming properties from the wrong people.
In the case of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, which together sit on more than 190,000 foreclosed properties, the process of getting distressed homes ready for resale can take months and cost millions of dollars. If borrowers still occupy the homes, Freddie Mac will offer them financial assistance with relocation, a program known as “cash for keys”. Eviction proceedings are a last resort.
Some borrowers are wise to these delays. Shasta Gaughen has not made a payment on her California apartment since February, but Bank of America, which owns the loan, has not forced her out.
“I imagine that they will let me stay for quite some time,” she said.