Home foreclosures jump in 3rd quarter: regulators

WASHINGTON Wed Dec 29, 2010 4:44pm EST

A sign on a foreclosed home is seen in Los Angeles, California, October 25, 2010. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

A sign on a foreclosed home is seen in Los Angeles, California, October 25, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Lucy Nicholson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. home foreclosures jumped in the third quarter and banks' efforts to keep borrowers in their homes dropped as the housing market continues to struggle, U.S. bank regulators said on Wednesday.

The regulators said one reason for the increase in foreclosures is that banks have "exhausted" options for keeping many delinquent borrowers in their homes through programs such as loan modifications.

Newly-initiated foreclosures increased to 382,000 in the third quarter, a 31.2 percent jump over the previous quarter and a 3.7 percent rise from the same quarter a year ago, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) and the Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS) said in a quarterly mortgage report.

The number of foreclosures in process increased to 1.2 million, a 4.5 percent increase from the second quarter and a 10.1 percent increase from a year ago, according to the regulators.

They said during a briefing that the numbers could send "mixed signals" about the health of the U.S. housing market.

Regulators also said a possible reason for the foreclosure uptick in the quarter was that a large pool of borrowers who were being considered for home retention programs but did not qualify moved through the system.

"I think you'll see more stabilization now," said Bruce Krueger, a mortgage official at the OCC.

Foreclosures have become a hot political topic and mortgage servicers have come under fire in recent months amid accusations they did not properly review documents before attempting to take borrowers' homes.

These concerns prompted the country's 50 state attorneys general to coordinate an investigation of lenders such as Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase & Co and Ally Financial's GMAC unit.

Some banks, including BofA, temporarily suspended foreclosure proceedings late in the third quarter to review procedures.

Officials from the OCC and OTS declined to say what type of impact this might have on fourth-quarter foreclosure numbers.

BANKS LOOK OUTSIDE HAMP

State attorneys general and regulators have been pushing banks to perform more loan modifications and the report shows these efforts have had mixed results.

Overall home retention actions taken by banks dropped by 17 percent compared to the second quarter, but most of that was due to decreases in the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), the Obama administration's leading foreclosure prevention effort.

In the third quarter, HAMP loan modifications slid by almost 46 percent, according to the report.

Regulators said the drop in HAMP modifications is likely due to a few factors, including that a large pool of borrowers who were being considered for the program turned out not to be eligible once their qualifications were fully reviewed.

Treasury launched HAMP to try to find a way to reduce mortgage payments for struggling homeowners who wanted to keep their homes but who were at imminent risk of foreclosure.

But it is widely regarded as a flawed program, and the incoming Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Representative Darrell Issa, has called for it to be ended.

Regulators pointed out that mortgage servicers are pursuing more modifications outside of HAMP and such efforts increased by 10 percent in the third quarter.

The report, which covers 33 million loans serviced by national banks and federally regulated thrifts, shows that the amount of borrowers making their mortgage payments on time remains steady at 87.4 percent.

The amount of seriously delinquent loans, those 60 days or more past due, dropped 6.4 percent from the second quarter. The amount of loans that were 30 to 59 days past due, however, increased 4.3 percent.