Foreclosure Nightmare Persists Especially in the Southeast

Even though "the worst of the U.S. housing slump may be over," with 364,000 homeowners facing foreclosure so far this year, "the foreclosure nightmare" that haunts many of the nation's homeowners is not over, according to Foreclosures.com here.

The real estate investment advisory and foreclosure monitory firm reported 2.4 out of every 1,000 homeowners faced losing their property to foreclosure in the first three months of 2007. Compared to 207,128 filings during the same period in 2006, it marks a 22.5% increase.

The Southeast region continues to lead the nation in pre-foreclosure and auction filings. Once again, compared to the same period of last year, California recorded the highest pre-foreclosure filings, which rose by 139% and 277%, respectively. In the REO marketplace, Texas ranked first with 14,101 filings year-to-date, compared to 11,226 a year ago. While Colorado led in pre-foreclosure with 9,711 filings, followed by Florida with 5,022 filings.

Foreclosures.com president Alexis McGee noted in a company release that these market conditions "unfortunately for those overextended homeowners," going forward, this dark cloud over their heads "isn't likely top lift any time soon either."

The total number of currently foreclosed properties, however, is much higher since it does not include thousands of now-vacant properties lost in the past that have entered the so-called REO stock. The bank-owned real estate properties on file reached 110,791 in the first quarter alone.

For the first quarter of this year, at 102,930, nationwide auction filings increased by almost 50% compared to 69,802 in the fourth quarter of 2006. Similarly, pre-foreclosure filings increased to 168,837 in the first quarter, up from 138,799 in the fourth quarter of 2006.

The high foreclosure rate has affected the industry in more than one way, bringing into bankruptcy some of the nation's largest subprime lenders or forced other banks to pull out of the subprime market reducing workout options for many homeowners in default or foreclosure, Foreclosures.com said.

Lender willingness to help their customers work out their mortgage woes, she said, does not change the fact they are also using tighter underwriting guidelines even compared to just a few months ago, so homeowners cannot simply refinance their way out of trouble, they have to quickly sell their homes or lose them to foreclosure.

"That means in the coming months we can expect to see many more pre-foreclosure filings, more auctions and more REOs."

One example of efforts to make the best out of a bad situation, Foreclosures.com said, is the recent auction of 450 REO properties in the Detroit area where housing prices were depreciating. A group of lenders with sizeable REO portfolios hired local auction experts to place bids for properties starting at only $1 with bidding deposit requirements at $3,000. Some of these properties located in dilapidated neighborhoods sold for $30,000 or less.

It shows that not-well-preserved properties in undesired neighborhoods may end up turning into an auction bargain.

"Don't expect to pick up a great deal on a great house in a great location at an REO auction," Ms. McGee said. "The well-publicized Detroit auction drew a huge audience of bidders and subsequent competitive bidding led many properties to sell at or above market value."

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