Tuesday, April 15, 2008

U.S. Foreclosures Jump 57% as Homeowners Walk Away

(Bloomberg) -- U.S. foreclosure filings jumped 57 percent and bank repossessions more than doubled in March from a year earlier as adjustable mortgages increased and more owners gave up their homes to lenders.

More than 234,000 properties were in some stage of foreclosure, or one in every 538 U.S. households, Irvine, California-based RealtyTrac Inc., a seller of default data, said today in a statement. Nevada, California and Florida had the highest foreclosure rates. Filings rose 5 percent from February.

About $460 billion of adjustable-rate loans are scheduled to reset this year, according to New York-based analysts at Citigroup Inc. Auction notices rose 32 percent from a year ago, a sign that more defaulting homeowners are ``simply walking away and deeding their properties back to the foreclosing lender'' rather than letting the home be auctioned, RealtyTrac Chief Executive Officer James Saccacio said in the statement.

``We're not near the bottom of this at all,'' said Kenneth Rosen, chairman of Rosen Real Estate Securities LLC, a hedge fund in Berkeley, California and chairman of the Fisher Center for Real Estate at the University of California at Berkeley. ``The foreclosure process will accelerate throughout the year.''

Rising foreclosures will add more inventory to an already glutted market, keep home prices down through at least next year and thwart efforts by Congress and President George W. Bush to help homeowners avoid default, Rosen said in an interview.

`Drag' on Prices

About 2.5 million foreclosed properties will be on the market this year and in 2009, Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. analysts led by Michelle Meyer said in an April 10 report. U.S. home price declines will probably double to a national average of 20 percent by next year, with lower values most likely in metropolitan areas in California, Florida, Arizona and Nevada, mortgage insurer PMI Group Inc. said last week in a report.

Borrowers who owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth may be buffeted by increasing job losses in a ``very substantial recession,'' Rosen said. About 8.8 million borrowers had home mortgages that exceeded the value of their property, Moody's Economy.com said last week.

``At least 2 million jobs will be lost because of this recession, so we'll get a cumulative negative spiral,'' Rosen said. ``A normal recession is 10 months. We think this one may be twice as long.''

Bank seizures climbed 129 percent from a year earlier, according to RealtyTrac, which has a database of more than 1 million properties and monitors foreclosure filings including defaults notices, auction sale notices and bank repossessions. March was the 27th consecutive month of year-on-year monthly foreclosure increases. In February, foreclosure filings rose 60 percent.

Nevada Leads

A surge in defaults among subprime borrowers, those with poor or limited credit, spurred the collapse of the U.S. home loan market and has led more than 100 mortgage companies to stop lending, close or sell themselves. As the value of securities tied to mortgages plummeted, lenders and securities firms have reported writedowns and credit losses of at least $245 billion since the beginning of 2007, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Nevada had the highest U.S. foreclosure rate in March at one for every 139 households, almost four times the national rate, RealtyTrac said. Filings there increased almost 62 percent from a year earlier to 7,659.

California had the second-highest rate at one filing for every 204 households, and the most filings for the 15th consecutive month at 64,711. Foreclosure filings more than doubled from a year earlier and were up about 21 percent from February.

Florida, Ohio

Florida had the third-highest rate, one filing for every 282 households, and ranked second in total filings at 30,254. Foreclosures increased 112 percent from a year earlier and decreased almost 7 percent from February, RealtyTrac said.

Ohio ranked third in filings at 11,273 and had the seventh- highest foreclosure rate, one for every 448 households. Georgia, Texas, Michigan, Arizona, Illinois, Nevada and Colorado also ranked among the top 10 states with the most filings, RealtyTrac said.

``The continued increase in new foreclosures implies an even larger drag on prices in 2008,'' Goldman Sachs Chief U.S. Economist Jan Hatzius wrote April 8. Home prices fell 8.9 percent in the fourth quarter, the biggest decline in 20 years as measured by the S&P/Case-Shiller home price index.

Some borrowers are ``hanging on at the margins'' in the face of resets, said Mark Goldman, a loan officer at Windsor Capital Mortgage Corp. in San Diego.

Goldman said one of his clients is a self-employed contractor whose adjustable-rate mortgage rose by two percentage points two months ago. His mortgage payment has increased to $7,200 from $4,900.

``I've had people sitting in my office in tears because there are no loans available,'' said Goldman. ``There are no loans for someone who's upside down on their house.''

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