NEW YORK – The bleakest year in the foreclosure crisis has only just begun.
Lenders are poised to take back more homes this year than any other since the U.S. housing meltdown began in 2006. About 5 million borrowers are at least two months behind on their mortgages and industry experts say more people will miss payments because of job losses and also loans that exceed the value of the homes they are living in.
“2011 is going to be the peak,” said Rick Sharga, a senior vice president at foreclosure tracker RealtyTrac Inc. The firm predicts 1.2 million homes will be repossessed this year.
The blistering pace of foreclosures this year will top 2010, when a record 1 million homes were lost, RealtyTrac said Thursday.
One in every 45 U.S. households received a foreclosure filing last year, a record 2.9 million of them. That’s up 1.67 percent from 2009.
On Thursday, Freddie Mac reported that fixed mortgage rates dipped this week for the second straight time, extending a sliver of hope for some homeowners. The average rate on the 30-year mortgage dropped to 4.71 percent from 4.77 percent the previous week.
The dip has led more borrowers to apply for a refinance, but would-be buyers remain hesitant, according to Wednesday’s mortgage indexes from the Mortgage Bankers Association. It will take more than low mortgage rates to jumpstart a housing market plagued by high unemployment, falling prices and tighter credit standards.
The glut of foreclosures has compounded the problem and while the pace moderated in the final months of 2010, that isn’t expected to last.
Foreclosures are expected to remain elevated throughout the year, pushing home prices down another 5 percent nationally before finally bottoming out.
The number of homes that received at least one foreclosure-related filing in December was the lowest monthly total in 30 months. Total notices fell 1.8 percent from November and 26.3 percent from December 2009, RealtyTrac said.
Banks temporarily halted actions against borrowers severely behind on their payments after allegations of improper eviction surfaced in September.
However, most banks have since resumed foreclosures and the first quarter will likely bear that out, Sharga said.