By Julie Schmit, USA TODAY
Foreclosure activity in April fell to its lowest level in 74 months, but action is ramping up in some states, says a national foreclosure tracker.
In April, one of every 905 U.S. housing units received a foreclosure filing, market watcher RealtyTrac says. That was the lowest level since February 2007 - near the beginning of the nation's foreclosure crisis - and down 23% from a year ago.
But foreclosure activity is increasing in some states where legal procedures and new laws to protect homeowners had slowed down foreclosures.
For example, in 26 states where foreclosures mostly go through the courts, scheduled foreclosure auctions in April were up 31% from a year ago to a 30-month high, RealtyTrac says. The auction is where the bank most often reclaims a foreclosed home.
The increase in scheduled auctions indicates that mortgage servicers are "serious about actually foreclosing," says RealtyTrac Vice President Daren Blomquist.
Two states where courts approve foreclosures are Florida and New Jersey. In Florida, one of the states hardest hit by foreclosures, scheduled foreclosure auctions were up 55% in April vs. a year ago. In New Jersey, they increased 91%.
In both states, foreclosures slowed dramatically several years ago after allegations surfaced that many cases were moving through the courts without proper documentation.
Since then, many states have imposed new rules and oversight that slowed the process.
Now, "things are moving quickly again," says Florida foreclosure defense attorney Roy Oppenheim.
He says many older cases lingering in the courts may still have documentation problems but new cases are moving faster.
Evidence of that can be seen in California, where RealtyTrac data shows foreclosure starts rose 13% in April from March.
California foreclosures don't go through the courts. But a new law this year gave homeowners more protections. Among other things, it prevents lenders from moving ahead with foreclosures while homeowners pursue loan modifications.
After the law took effect, foreclosure starts hit a 90-month low in California, RealtyTrac says. They've been trending back up as mortgage servicers adjust to the new rules, Blomquist says.
The prospect of more foreclosure inventory hitting the market is no longer the threat that it was, real estate experts say.
With tight inventory in many of the nation's housing markets, Realtors want more homes to sell.
Lenders, too, may see reduced losses given higher home prices, which were up 10.5% year-over-year in March, CoreLogic says.
Lenders "want to get these (foreclosures) through now because the values are up," Oppenheim says.
Even if foreclosure activity speeds up in some states, it will be years before states clear their foreclosure pipelines.
In March, more than 5.6% of home loans were in foreclosure in the judicial foreclosure states vs. 1.7% of home loans in non-judicial foreclosure states, according to mortgage tracker Lender Processing Services.
Before the foreclosure crisis, a 0.5% ratio was more the norm, LPS says.
USA Today / Gannett