Foreclosure activity plunged in February

LOS ANGELES – Big banks put the brakes on foreclosure activity last month as the American foreclosure system faced a major overhaul and homeowners challenged their lenders in court.

The decline in foreclosure actions – from default notices to bank repossessions – dropped the most in states where a court order is required to take back a home.

Nationally, foreclosure activity fell 14 percent from January and 27 percent from February 2010, according to RealtyTrac. That is the largest year-over-year decline since the Irvine data firm began keeping statistics in 2005.

Evidence of a foreclosure slowdown comes as state attorneys general and federal regulators push the banks to revise the way they service loans, consider troubled borrowers for potential mortgage relief and conduct their foreclosure proceedings. Officials last week sent the nation’s biggest mortgage servicers a 27-page list of terms outlining these demands.

“The foreclosure process is stalled, and the seemingly impending settlement is delaying foreclosures,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s “The whole process is slowing down because of these issues.”

Negotiations involve the five largest providers of home loans. They include the arms of four national banks: Bank of America Corp., Wells Fargo & Co., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Citigroup Inc. Also part of the talks is Ally Financial Inc., the former GMAC, which services loans through its GMAC Mortgage unit.

The wrangling began last year after revelations that some of the nation’s largest financial institutions relied on “robo-signers,” people who signed key court documents used in thousands of foreclosure cases across the country without reading or understanding them. The revelations led several banks to issue foreclosure moratoriums and lawmakers to question the integrity of the entire foreclosure system.

The February decline was probably related, in part, to banks resubmitting foreclosure filings that had been found to be faulty, said Rick Sharga, RealtyTrac senior vice president. About 70,000 foreclosure filings were resubmitted nationally last month, a number RealtyTrac did not include in its February estimates.

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