May foreclosures fall - but still high

Foreclosure filings fall 6% from April but still post third worst month on record.

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By Les Christie, CNNMoney.com staff writer

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Lenders filed fewer foreclosure notices in May, but the total number of filings was still the third-highest monthly total on record.

One of every 398 households in the United States received some kind of filing, including notices of default, scheduled auctions or bank repossession, during May. That was a decline of 6% from April but an increase of 18% compared with May 2008.

And the ultimate type of foreclosure filing - bank repossessions - increased during the month, according to RealtyTrac CEO James Saccacio.

"While defaults and scheduled foreclosure auctions were both down from the previous month, bank repossessions, or REOs, were up 2%" he said, in a prepared statement. "We expect REO activity to spike in the coming months as foreclosure delays and moratoria implemented by various state laws come to an end."

But overall, the May statistics underscore what may be a slight improvement. The number of filings trailed off toward the end of the month, according to RealtyTrac spokesman, Rick Sharga.

"We're still coming through a three-month period like nothing we've ever seen before," he said, "with nearly a million filings in all."

The month saw big increases of repossessed homes in several states, including Michigan, Arizona, Washington, Nevada, Oregon and New York. In Michigan alone bank repossessions went to 6,246 from 3,560 in April, a 75% increase.

And it could have been worse. Sharga said he's been hearing anecdotal reports of banks taking homes all the way through the foreclosure process and then suspending further action.

"We hear the servicers are pulling back from the brink," he said. "They want someone in the house."

Vacant homes are subject to vandalism and looting and often quickly lose whatever value they have. Thieves crash through plaster walls to get at copper wiring and plumbing or strip aluminum siding from exteriors, in many cases eliminating any chance of salvaging the property.

States of foreclosure

The foreclosure problem is widespread but reaches plague proportions in 10 states; those hardest-hit areas account for 77% of all foreclosure filings. California had more than any other state with with 92,249 - nearly 29% of all U.S. filings.

Florida posted the nation's second highest number at 58,931, up 50% from May 2008. Other top 10 states were Nevada (17,157), Arizona (16,865), Michigan (13,891), Ohio (11,360), Illinois (10,942), Georgia (10,516), Texas (9,813) and Virginia (5,385).

Nevada had the highest foreclosure rate with one filing for every 64 households. California, with one for every 144, and Florida, with one for every 148, were second and third respectively.

Working through the problem

The foreclosure boom has depressed home prices and that has brought homebuyers back into some markets. In fact, sales volume is much stronger in many states compared with 2008, and affordability has improved to levels not seen in many years.

"In some of the 'ground-zero' places, like Stockton, parts of Phoenix, San Diego and some others, buyers are bidding bank-owned homes up, way, way over the the asking prices" said Sharga.

What could slow down this market revival, however, is the recent bump in mortgage interest rates.

Rates for a 30-year, fixed-rate loan have jumped to about 5.5% from about 4.8% five weeks ago. That adds about 12% to monthly mortgage payments, almost as if the house increased that much in price.

If the higher rates cause demand for foreclosures to slacken, the nation could see further addition to its supply of repossessed homes. That could send more home prices plummeting, pushing more mortgage borrowers underwater (owing more than their properties are worth) and closer to foreclosure.

Have you applied for a loan modification or refinancing under the Obama administration plan? Did you run into roadbloacks or were you able to get a lower monthly payment and avoid foreclosure? We want to hear your experiences. E-mail your story to realstories@cnnmoney.com and you could be part of an upcoming article. For the CNNMoney.com Comment Policy, click here.  To top of page

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