Foreclosures on the Rise Again

After a year-long reprieve from rising foreclosures, the numbers are going up again.

Home with foreclosure sign
Home with foreclosure sign

One in every 624 U.S. households received a foreclosure filing in January, up 3 percent from the previous month, according to a new report from RealtyTrac. Foreclosure activity froze in many states in 2011, due to processing delays after fraud, or so-called "Robo-signing," were uncovered in the fall of 2010. The thaw is now on.

"We expect the pattern of increasing foreclosures to continue in the coming months, especially given the finalized mortgage and foreclosure settlement reached in early February between 49 state attorneys general and five of the nation's largest lenders," said RealtyTrac's CEO Brandon Moore in a written release. "Foreclosure activity increased on a year-over-year basis for the first time in more than 12 months in Florida, Illinois, Indiana and Pennsylvania, following a pattern we saw in late 2011 in states such as California, Arizona and Massachusetts."

While states that do not require a judge to preside over foreclosure proceedings, like California, saw a jump in filings toward the end of last year, judicial states have all but stalled. That will now change, thanks to the $26 billion dollar government-lender/servicer settlement. There will still be some delays on individual state levels, but the wheels are turning again, and that means more bank repossessions and more foreclosed properties heading to the re-sale market.

Bank repossessions, the final stage of the foreclosure process, increased at least 30 percent year-over-year in several states, including Massachusetts, which saw a 75 percent spike. Bank-owned or REO (real estate owned) activity hit a 16-month high in Illinois and a 15-month high in Indiana. Default notices, the first stage of foreclosure, were flat nationally in January, but spiked in judicial states, like Connecticut and Pennsylvania (up 112 percent) and even in non-judicial states like Maryland (up 100 percent).

Nevada still posted the highest foreclosure rate, with one in every 198 households receiving a filing, despite an 8 percent drop in foreclosure activity. Nevada is a non-judicial foreclosure state, so the foreclosure backlog has been clearing for the last several months.

The situation is the same in California, where foreclosure activity dropped to a 50-month low, but the state still posted the second highest foreclosure rate in the nation. More than 51,000 borrowers received a foreclosure filing in January. California cities still account for nine of the top ten metro foreclosure rates, according to RealtyTrac.

As optimism seems to abound for the spring, at least among the nation's home builders whose sentiment index jumped to the highest level in four years this month, foreclosures still stand in the way of a robust recovery.

Distressed property sales lower the value of homes around them, and that pushes more borrowers into a negative equity position, owing more on their mortgages than their homes are currently valued. Until banks work through the enormous backlog of foreclosures, which number in the millions, home prices will not hit a firm bottom, especially in the most troubled local real estate markets.

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