- Associated Press - Thursday, July 15, 2010

LOS ANGELES (AP) — More than 1 million American households are likely to lose their homes to foreclosure this year as lenders work their way through a huge backlog of borrowers who have fallen behind on their loans.

Nearly 528,000 homes were taken over by lenders in the first six months of the year, a rate that is on track to eclipse the more than 900,000 homes repossessed in 2009, according to data released Thursday by RealtyTrac Inc., a foreclosure listing service.

“That would be unprecedented,” said Rick Sharga, a senior vice president at RealtyTrac.

By comparison, lenders historically have taken over about 100,000 homes a year, Mr. Sharga said.

The surge in home repossessions reflects the dynamic of a foreclosure crisis that has shown signs of leveling off in recent months but remains a crippling drag on the housing market.

The pace at which homeowners are falling behind in payments and houses are entering the foreclosure process has slowed as banks continue to let delinquent borrowers stay longer in their homes rather than adding to the glut of foreclosed properties on the market. At the same time, lenders have stepped up repossessions in an effort to clear out the backlog of distressed inventory on their books.

The number of households facing foreclosure in the first half of the year climbed 8 percent compared with the similar period last year, but dropped 5 percent from the last six months of 2009, according to RealtyTrac, which tracks notices for defaults, scheduled home auctions and home repossessions.

In all, about 1.7 million homeowners received a foreclosure-related warning between January and June. That translates to one in 78 U.S. homes.

Foreclosure notices posted monthly declines in April, May and June, but Mr. Sharga said one shouldn’t read too much into that.

“The banks are really sort of controlling or managing the dial on how fast these things get processed so they can ultimately manage the inventory of distressed assets on the market,” he said.

On average, it takes about 15 months for a home loan to go from being 30 days late to the property being foreclosed and sold, according to Lender Processing Services Inc., which tracks mortgages.

Assuming the U.S. economy doesn’t worsen, aggravating the foreclosure crisis, Mr. Sharga projects it will take lenders through 2013 to resolve the backlog of distressed properties that have on their books right now.

And a new wave of foreclousres could be coming in the second half of the year, especially if the unemployment rate remains high, mortgage-assistance programs fail and the economy doesn’t improve fast enough to lift home sales.

The prospect of lenders taking over more than a million homes this year is likely to push housing values down, experts say.

Foreclosed homes typically are sold at steep discounts, lowering the value of surrounding properties.

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