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Originally published February 15, 2012 at 9:02 PM | Page modified February 16, 2012 at 9:53 AM

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Foreclosure activity down in state, up nationally in January

Experts say bank repossessions will strengthen in light of last week's $25 billion settlement between the biggest mortgage lenders and 49 state attorneys general over the industry's handling of foreclosures.

The Associated Press

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Banks took back more U.S. homes in January than in the previous month, the latest sign that foreclosures are accelerating after slowing sharply last year while lenders sorted out foreclosure-abuse claims.

Foreclosures rose 8 percent nationally from December, but were down 15 percent from a year earlier, foreclosure-listing firm RealtyTrac reported.

Despite the annual decrease at the national level, some states saw sharp increases compared with January 2011. In New Hampshire, foreclosures jumped 62 percent. In Massachusetts, 75 percent.

Foreclosures in Washington state in January, however, fell 18 percent from December and 58 percent from January 2011.

Experts say bank repossessions will strengthen this year in light of last week's $25 billion settlement between the biggest mortgage lenders and 49 state attorneys general over the industry's handling of foreclosures.

Many banks and mortgage servicers processed foreclosures without verifying documents. Some employees signed papers they hadn't read or used fake signatures to speed foreclosures — a practice dubbed "robo-signing."

Major banks temporarily put foreclosures on hold after the problems surfaced in fall 2010. Some had to refile previously filed foreclosure cases and revisit pending cases to prevent errors.

Those delays and uncertainty over state and federal inquiries into foreclosure practices led to a sharp slowdown in repossessions last year.

The settlement between the banks and state attorneys general helps clarify the rules banks must follow to foreclose on borrowers, said Daren Blomquist, a vice president at RealtyTrac. That will pave the way for more foreclosures, he said.

"The settlement will accelerate the foreclosures that are happening this year, and it will accelerate the process of lenders catching up on the backlog of foreclosures that has been building up over the last year and a half," Blomquist said.

RealtyTrac projects foreclosures will rise 25 percent this year to 1 million homes. Last year, lenders took back 804,000 homes.

All told in January, 210,941 U.S. homes received a default notice, were scheduled for auction or were repossessed by a lender, RealtyTrac said.

That's up 3 percent from December, but down 19 percent from January 2011. The foreclosure rate translates to one in every 624 U.S. households.

Washington state information was contributed by Seattle Times reporter Sanjay Bhatt.

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