For a glimpse of the problems that a slow foreclosure process can cause, look no further than Maryland.
In Maryland, it takes 531 days to complete a foreclosure, nearly 30 percent longer than the national average. That didn’t solve the state’s foreclosure problem — it just hid it until the numbers began to boil over and hurt the housing market.
Maryland now has one of the top 10 foreclosure rates in the country. In February, foreclosure activity in the state jumped 83 percent in a single month — the eighth consecutive monthly increase.
One in every 720 homes in Maryland is in the foreclosure process, above the national average of 1 in 849 homes.
Across the Potomac in Virginia, by contrast, the average time to foreclose is 146 days, second only to Delaware among the states. Virginia now has flushed out its foreclosure problem and is rebuilding the housing market.
Jumping on the fast track
While some states ride the brakes, others are pumping the gas. Illinois, New Jersey and even Maryland have written laws designed to speed up the process for dealing with abandoned properties.
Maryland lawmakers attached fast-track legislation for vacant properties to the same mediation bill that was enacted last year, though officials say it is too soon to measure the effectiveness.
In Illinois, one of the states that was hit worst by the foreclosure crisis, Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat, signed legislation last month to reduce the foreclosure process on abandoned properties to as little as 90 days.
In cases where owners have given up and left their homes, the law would allow lenders to seek speedy foreclosures.
State Sen. Jacqueline Collins, a Democrat from Chicago, pushed the bill.
“Some of my communities have been the hardest hit by abandoned properties and foreclosures,” she said. “People are not going to move into a community where they see two or three or four abandoned properties.”
Samantha Tuttle, director of policy and advocacy at Heartland Alliance, a group that fights poverty, helped Ms. Collins shape the bill. “Here’s a property where nobody’s living in it; it is not anybody’s home any longer,” she said, “so moving those properties through the system more quickly makes sense.”
New Jersey is taking a similar approach. Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, signed the state’s fast-track legislation into law Dec. 6. Under the law, abandoned properties would be considered houses with overgrown grass, an accumulation of newspapers or mail on the ground and junk and litter on the yard, among other things. It could take as little as a few months to foreclose on such properties.
“We’re trying to get foreclosed homes back on the market and occupied,” said state Sen. Raymond Lesniak, the Democrat from Union County who pushed the legislation. “They’re a drag on the economy and an invitation to crime. It really depresses the entire housing market.”