- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 30, 2008

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The number of American homes that slipped into some stage of foreclosure in 2007 was 79 percent higher than the previous year, a real estate tracking company said yesterday.

Many homeowners started to fall behind on mortgage payments in the last three months, setting the stage for more foreclosures this year.

About 1.3 million homes received foreclosure-related warnings last year, up from 717,522 in 2006, according to data compiled by RealtyTrac Inc. of Irvine, Calif. Foreclosure filings rose 75 percent from the previous year to 2.2 million.

More than 1 percent of all U.S. households were in some phase of the foreclosure process last year, up from about half a percent in 2006, RealtyTrac said.

Nevada, Florida, Michigan and California posted the highest foreclosure rates, the company said.



The filings included notices warning owners that they were in default, or that their home was slated for auction or for repossession by a bank. Some properties may have received more than one notice if the owners had multiple mortgages.

A late-year surge in the number of properties reporting foreclosure filings suggests that many are in the initial stages of the foreclosure process and could end up lost to foreclosure this year unless lenders or the government steps in, RealtyTrac said.

“It does appear that we’re seeing a new batch of properties enter the process,” said Rick Sharga, RealtyTrac’s vice president of marketing.

RealtyTrac is forecasting the pace of foreclosure filings will remain steady, rather than accelerate during the first half of 2008.

“Assuming nothing else bad happens economically … we will have exhausted the bulk of the worst-performing loans by the end of June,” Mr. Sharga said, referring to adjustable-rate mortgage loans made to borrowers with poor credit.

More than 1.8 million subprime mortgages are scheduled to reset to higher interest rates this year and next.

Last year’s explosion in foreclosure activity came amid a worsening housing downturn, as falling home values ate into homeowners’ equity, making it harder for many to refinance into more affordable loans or to find buyers. Those options had helped keep troubled homeowners from sliding into foreclosure.

“We went from a sort of buying frenzy to a foreclosure frenzy in the last two years,” Mr. Sharga said.

Recent efforts by government and mortgage lenders to help homeowners at risk of falling seriously behind on mortgage payments have had a marginal impact on the U.S. foreclosure rate so far, Mr. Sharga added.

In December alone, foreclosure filings soared 97 percent from the same month a year earlier to 215,749. It was the fifth consecutive month in which foreclosure filings topped more than 200,000, RealtyTrac said.

In the fourth quarter, filings rose 86 percent from the prior-year quarter but only 1 percent from the third quarter.

Nevada had the highest foreclosure rate in the nation last year, with 3.4 percent of its households receiving foreclosure filings. That was more than three times the national average, RealtyTrac said.

The state had 66,316 filings on 34,417 properties in 2007, up more than 200 percent from 2006’s total.

California led the nation in total foreclosure filings and the number of homes in some stage of foreclosure last year.

A total of 481,392 filings were issued on 249,513 properties, more than triple the number of filings in 2006, RealtyTrac said.

In all, 1.9 percent of households in California received foreclosure filings.

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