October 16, 2009 in Business

Foreclosures rise 5 percent in quarter

Unemployment is main reason homeowners are falling behind
Alan Zibel Associated Press
 

WASHINGTON – The number of households caught up in the foreclosure crisis rose more than 5 percent from summer to fall as a federal effort to assist struggling borrowers was overwhelmed by a flood of defaults among people who lost their jobs.

The foreclosure crisis affected nearly 938,000 properties in the July-September quarter, compared with about 890,000 in the prior three months, according to a report released Thursday by RealtyTrac Inc. That puts foreclosure-related filings on a pace to hit about 3.5 million this year, up from more than 2.3 million last year.

Unemployment is the main reason homeowners are falling into trouble. While the economy is likely out of recession, the unemployment rate – now at a 26-year high of 9.8 percent – isn’t expected to peak until the middle of next year.

Mortgage companies sometimes allow unemployed homeowners to defer three to six months of payments while they are looking for a job. But there’s little else they can do.

“The sheer scale of the problem is preventing the loan modification programs from having the kind of impact we’d all like” said Rick Sharga, RealtyTrac’s senior vice president for marketing.

Last week, the Obama administration hailed a milestone in its mortgage relief effort, reporting that 500,000 homeowners have received help since the program was launched in March. But new defaults are still exceeding the number of borrowers getting help.

Mortgage companies have slowed down the pace of foreclosures as they evaluate whether borrowers qualify for the administration’s program. Analysts, however, forecast that many of those homeowners won’t qualify, and foresee a new wave of foreclosed properties hitting the market next year. That’s likely to further depress home prices.

Some homeowners are in such a massive financial hole that it’s hard to design a modification that will actually provide lower payments. And some have avoided paying their monthly bills for a long time.

Banks repossessed nearly 88,000 homes in September, up from about 76,000 a month earlier.

On a state-by-state basis, Nevada had the nation’s highest foreclosure rate in the July-September quarter. Arizona was No. 2, followed by California, Florida and Idaho. Rounding out the top 10 were Utah, Georgia, Michigan, Colorado and Illinois.

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