| NEW YORK, March 11
NEW YORK, March 11 U.S. mortgage foreclosure
filings dropped for a second straight month in February, and
notched the smallest annual increase in four years as
housing-rescue efforts contained activity, a report released
on Thursday showed.
Foreclosures are by far one of the biggest threats to the
U.S. housing market, which remains highly vulnerable to
setbacks and heavily reliant on government intervention. If
foreclosures keep dropping, it will be one of the strongest
signals yet the market is on the path to recovery.
Foreclosure filings -- including mortgage default notices,
house auctions and home repossessions by banks -- were
reported on 308,524 properties in February, down 2 percent
from January, but still up 6 percent from the year-ago month,
real estate data firm RealtyTrac said.
"The 6 percent year-over-year increase we saw in February
was the smallest annual increase we've seen since January
2006, when we began calculating year-over-year increases, but
it still marked the 50th consecutive month of year-over-year
increases in foreclosure activity," said James J. Saccacio,
chief executive officer of RealtyTrac, in a statement.
Proclaiming an end to rampant foreclosures, however, is
premature. Indeed, many say foreclosure prevention programs
have fallen short of addressing the trend's current drivers.
"This leveling of the foreclosure trend is not necessarily
evidence that fewer homeowners are in distress and at risk for
foreclosure, but rather that foreclosure prevention programs,
legislation and other processing delays are in effect capping
monthly foreclosure activity -- albeit at a historically high
level that will likely continue for an extended period," he
While February's drop may indicate that efforts to prevent
foreclosure are gaining traction, the data has been volatile.
"In addition, severe winter weather appears to have
temporarily slowed the processing of foreclosure records in
some Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states," he said.
One in every 418 U.S. housing units received a foreclosure
filing in February, Irvine, California-based RealtyTrac said
in its February 2010 U.S. Foreclosure Market Report.
Furthermore, more than 300,000 properties received
foreclosure filings for a 12th straight month, RealtyTrac
REOs, or real estate-owned properties, activity nationwide
was down 10 percent from the previous month, but up 6 percent
from February 2009; default notices were up 3 percent from the
previous month, but down 3 percent from February 2009, and
scheduled foreclosure auctions were down 1 percent from the
previous month, but still up 16 percent from February 2009,
High unemployment and wage cuts have hurt the ability of
many home owners to pay monthly mortgage payments.
Unemployment was at 9.7 percent in February, according to the
Many lawmakers, advocacy groups and housing experts say
the government's Home Affordable Modification Program, or
HAMP, has fallen short because of its failure to adequately
address negative equity or "under water" mortgages.
Negative equity has been one of the biggest banes of many
home owners' lives, making many unqualified for home loan
refinancing and preventing some from selling their homes.
Borrowers in negative equity are more prone to defaults and
SUNBELT STILL HURTING
The foreclosure rate in Nevada, once one of the hottest
U.S. real estate markets, remained highest among U.S. states
for the 38th straight month -- despite a month-over-month drop
in foreclosure activity of nearly 7 percent and a
year-over-year fall of 30 percent.
One in every 102 Nevada housing units received a
foreclosure filing during the month of February -- more than
four times the national average.
Arizona and Florida documented nearly identical
foreclosure rates, with one in every 163 housing units
receiving a foreclosure filing in both states in February.
Despite a nearly 21 percent drop in foreclosure activity
from the previous month, Arizona's rate was statistically
slightly higher than Florida's rate, and ranked second highest
among the states. Foreclosure activity in Florida increased
nearly 15 percent in February from January.
The foreclosure rate in California, the most populous U.S.
state, ranked fourth highest among the states, with one in
every 195 housing units receiving a foreclosure filing during
Michigan's foreclosure rate ranked fifth highest among the
states, with one in every 226 housing units receiving a
foreclosure filing in February.
Other states with February foreclosure rates among the
nation's top 10 were Utah, Idaho, Illinois, Georgia and
Maryland, the report showed.
(Reporting by Julie Haviv; Editing by Jan Paschal)