Foreclosures plateau - finally. Repossessions soar

By Les Christie, staff writer


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The foreclosure plague may have finally reached its peak in April 2010 -- but don't expect delinquency statistics to plummet anytime soon.

The total number of foreclosure filings -- notices of default, auction notices and bank repossessions -- fell by 9% from March to April, and 2% compared with April 2009, according to data released Thursday by RealtyTrac, the online marketer of foreclosed properties.

This is the first time that has happened in the history of the report, which goes back to January 2006.

But the number of homes repossessed during April is at an all-time high of 92,432. That is a 45% increase over April 2009. If repossessions continue at this pace, more than 1.1 million homes will be lost in 2010.

"There were two important milestones in the April numbers that show foreclosure activity has begun to plateau, but at a very high level that will not drop off in the near future," said RealtyTrac CEO James Saccacio.

Saccacio said he expects the pattern to become the norm for many months, with the overall numbers of filings staying high, but not increasing, and repossessions remaining at record levels.

The reason that repossessions can rise while filings hold steady is that lenders are working through a backlog of delinquent properties, taking more of them through the entire process to repossession, rather than letting them linger in limbo.

Walkaways

The numbers of repossessed properties, also called real-estate owned or REOs, have been boosted by a spike in the number of homeowners voluntarily giving up their homes because their the value has dropped so precipitously.

These "strategic defaults" now account for nearly one in three foreclosures, according to a recent report from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management. That's up from 22% 12 months earlier.

Some homeowners walk away when they are "underwater," owing far more than the value of their home, because they realize that they will never recoup the losses. The further homeowners fall underwater, the more likely they are to leave.

About one in four U.S. homeowners is underwater, according to CoreLogic, a financial data provider. Nearly 5 million of those borrowers owe mortgage debt that exceeds their property values by 25% or more. The total of negative equity in these deeply underwater borrowers is a whopping $655 billion.

Foreclosure epicenters

Nevada continues to rank as the worst-hit foreclosure state, with one of every 69 households receiving some kind of filing. That's nearly six times the national rate which is one household for every 387 receiving a filing.

Arizona had the second highest rate; Florida the third; and California the fourth. California, the largest state in the union, had nearly 70,000 filings, more than any other state. Michigan, where the vast number of foreclosures can be traced to job losses and economic turmoil, recorded more than 19,000.

The metro area market that recorded the highest rate of foreclosure filings in April was Las Vegas, where one of every 60 homes was delinquent, Second was Modesto, Calif., with one in 101, and neighboring Merced, where one in 104 homeowners was in some stage of default. To top of page


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