August foreclosures hit another high

There were 304,000 homes in some stage of default last month, and 91,000 families lost their homes.

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By Les Christie, staff writer

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NEW YORK ( -- Foreclosures hit another record high in August: 304,000 homes were in default and 91,000 families lost their houses.

More than 770,000 homes have been repossessed by lenders since August 2007, when the credit crunch took hold.

The report from RealtyTrac, an online marketer of foreclosures properties, is the latest in string of bad news for housing.

Foreclosure filings of all kinds, including notices of defaults, notices of auctions and bank repossessions, grew 12% in August over July, and 27% compared with August 2007.

The 27% jump over last August represents a more modest year-over-year increase than in previous months, but that's only because the housing crisis was already underway in August 2007, which saw a big spike in foreclosures.

"In August 2008 the total number of U.S. properties that received foreclosure filings, as well as the national foreclosure rate, were both the highest we've seen in any month since we began issuing our report in January 2005," RealtyTrac CEO James Saccacio said in a statement.

Fannie Mae (FNM, Fortune 500) chief economist Doug Duncan isn't surprised by the swelling numbers. "It's been my view for a long time that foreclosures won't peak until the last three months of 2008," he said.

And now that the nation in a recessionary economy, with job losses exceeding 400,000 a month, Duncan speculates that the foreclosure crisis may be drawn out even longer.

"We've been saying that the foreclosure trend has not yet peaked," said Doug Robinson, a spokesman for the foreclosure prevention organization NeighborWorks America. "Before it was a subprime problem," he said. "Now, it's everybody's problem."

Putting filings on hold

The August figures would have been worse, had it not been for new legislation passed in several states, including Maryland and Massachusetts, designed to make lenders wait before filing notices of default.

In Massachusetts, for example, a 90-day waiting period went into effect on May 1. Every Massachusetts homeowner now has to be notified of their lenders's intention to file a notice of default against them, and they get a 90 day window during which they can attempt to bring their payments up to date. Lenders are prohibited from filing a first notice of default until after that period.

The impact has been immediate. RealtyTrac recorded no new notices of initial default for the state during August. That helped drive down total foreclosure filings in the state by more than 46% compared with last year.

Other states didn't fare as well. Nevada once again had the highest rate of filings in the nation. One of every 91 households, or 11,706 families, received a foreclosure notice of some kind during the month, and more than 4,000 others lost their homes.

More than 101,000 Californians received foreclosure notices, which comes to about one in every 130 households, while more than 33,000 people there lost their homes. Arizona had the third-highest rate with one out of every 182 households in default.

All of these states saw tremendous home price run-ups during the boom, which meant that many buyers had to use exotic, risky loans in order to be able to afford a home. These mortgages include subprime, hybrid adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs) that feature two or three years of low introductory rates before the loans reset to higher, often unaffordable levels and cause borrowers to default.

In some of the other hard hit states, such as Michigan (which had one filing for every 332 households) and Ohio (one filing per 444 households), which never saw a housing boom, delinquencies are being driven by fundamental economic woes like unemployment, rather than pricey real estate.

Eight of the top 10 worst performing metro areas were in California. Stockton, in the Central Valley, had the highest rate in the nation with one in every 50 households receiving a foreclosure filing during the month.

"You go up and down the central part of [California] and that's where you're seeing the carnage," said Rick Sharga, RealtyTrac's director of marketing. Home sales are actually up in many of these cities, the prices have dropped, often precipitously. "What's selling is the bank owned properties," he said. To top of page

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