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2012 could be record year for short sales

2012 is on track to become a record year for short sales, according to a report from foreclosure data aggregator RealtyTrac.

Sales of U.S. homes in the foreclosure process, typically short sales, rose 33 percent year over year, to 35,000, in January. A total of 32 states saw annual increases in short sales, and 12 states saw more short sales than REO (real estate owned) sales.

The short-sale increase comes after three years of declines following the inauguration of “a new presidential administration with a new approach to the foreclosure problem,” wrote Daren Blomquist, RealtyTrac’s vice president and author of the report.

“Short sales have long held great promise as a market-based solution to the nation’s foreclosure problem, but short sales transactions over the past three years have actually declined after peaking in the first quarter of 2009,” Blomquist said in a statement.

“January foreclosure sales numbers, along with first-quarter foreclosure activity, strongly indicate that downward trend is ending, and we believe 2012 could be a record year for short sales.”

Several states saw triple- or double-digit yearly jumps in short sales in January, including Georgia (up 113 percent), Michigan (90 percent), California (52 percent), Texas (48 percent), Arizona (44 percent), Nevada (36 percent), and Florida (20 percent).

Although REOs continue to outnumber short sales nationwide, there were only 2,600 more REO sales than short sales in January. Nearly a quarter of states had more short sales than REO sales, including Utah, California, Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Colorado, New York and New Jersey, according to the report.

Six out of the 10 states with the highest share of short sales in January were in the West.

Of the 50 largest U.S. metro areas, nine out of the 10 metros with the highest share of short sales in January were in the West, six of them in California.

Even as short sales increase, the prices buyers pay for them have decreased. In fourth-quarter 2011, a pre-foreclosure property sold for an average $184,221, down 11.3 percent from fourth-quarter 2010. In January, such a property sold for $174,120, down 10 percent year over year.

Short sales are also selling for bigger discounts when compared to the average sales prices of nondistressed homes. Short-sale buyers received an average 21 percent discount in January, up from an average discount of 17 percent the year before. RealtyTrac does not take into account property condition or size when calculating discounts for distressed properties.

Short sales in Massachusetts, Missouri and California saw the biggest discounts in January.

Short-sale timelines appear to be getting shorter. After peaking at 318 days in third-quarter 2011, the average number of days it took for a property to go from the start of the foreclosure process to its sale as a pre-foreclosure was 306 days in the first quarter, slightly down from 308 days in the fourth quarter.’

Although foreclosure starts — either default notices or scheduled foreclosure auctions, depending on the state — were down 11 percent from the previous year in March, last month also saw the third straight monthly rise in foreclosure starts.

There are nearly 3.5 million delinquent borrowers nationwide; 41 percent of those borrowers are seriously delinquent and therefore at high risk for entering the foreclosure process and becoming short sales, RealtyTrac said.

Another, bigger potential pool of short-sellers are borrowers with underwater mortgages. More than 12.5 million borrowers owe at least 25 percent more on their mortgage than their home is worth.

“Even if these homeowners aren’t struggling to make mortgage payments and therefore are at low risk for foreclosure, if they need to sell sometime in the next five years it’s likely they’ll need to sell via short sale,” the report said.

Among lenders and loan servicers, Bank of America had the highest short-sale volume in January, followed by Chase and Wells Fargo.

PNC Financial saw the biggest annual jump in short sales, followed by the Federal Housing Administration, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac combined.

Those three government-backed entities also had the lowest average short-sale prices in January, the biggest declines in average sales price for short sales, the lowest number of average days to sale, and the biggest decrease in time to sell.

Foreclosure backlogs persist

The improving job market and economy is helping push mortgage delinquencies and foreclosure starts down, but the percentage of loans in the foreclosure process remains stubbornly high, especially in states most affected by robo-signing issues, according to a quarterly survey of lenders by the Mortgage Bankers Association.

Since peaking at 10.1 percent in March 2010, the percentage of borrowers behind on their house payments has fallen to a seasonally adjusted 7.6 percent at the end of 2011 — about halfway to the pre-recession average of roughly 5 percent, said MBA Chief Economist Jay Brinkmann.

The percentage of loans entering the foreclosure process — which before the downturn averaged just under 0.5 percent — has also declined, from a peak of 1.4 percent at the end of third-quarter 2009 to 1 percent at the end of fourth-quarter 2011.

But at 4.4 percent, the percentage of loans in the foreclosure process at the end of 2011 was not far off the all-time high of 4.6 percent seen at the end of 2010. That compares to the long-term norm of roughly 1.2 percent.

Robo-signing issues — which lenders hope to put behind them this year as they implement recently announced settlement with state attorneys general — have created foreclosure backlogs.

While foreclosure starts are falling, it’s taking loan servicers longer to auction off or repossess homes once they enter the foreclosure process, particularly in states where courts oversee the process.

In “judicial foreclosure” states where courts handle most foreclosures, 6.8 percent of mortgages were in foreclosure at the end of 2011. In “nonjudicial” foreclosure states where most foreclosures are processed outside of the court system, loan servicers are clearing the backlog more quickly, and 2.8 percent of mortgages were in foreclosure.

The MBA survey covers 42.9 million loans on one- to four-unit residential properties, or about 88 percent of all first-lien mortgages. Extrapolating the survey’s results suggests that of the 48.75 million mortgages outstanding at the end of 2011, 2.13 million were in the foreclosure process.

Five states accounted for more than half of all loans in foreclosure — Florida, California, Illinois, New York and New Jersey. All but California are judicial foreclosure states.

The 10 states with the greatest percentage of mortgages in foreclosure were: Florida (14.27 percent), New Jersey (8.21 percent), Illinois (7.41 percent), Nevada (7.03 percent), Maine (5.92 percent), New York (5.88 percent), Connecticut (5.05 percent), Hawaii (4.97 percent), Ohio (4.94 percent), and Indiana (4.94 percent). All but Nevada are judicial foreclosure states.

The states with the lowest foreclosure rates were: Wyoming (1.03 percent), North Dakota (1.05 percent), Alaska (1.06 percent), Nebraska (1.55 percent), South Dakota (1.75 percent), Montana (1.76 percent), Texas (1.78 percent), Virginia (1.84 percent), Alabama (1.94 percent), and Arkansas (1.97 percent). Among those states, only North Dakota handles foreclosures judicially.