April 22, 2009 / 4:40 AM / 10 years ago

Sun Belt states lead Q1 U.S. mortgage foreclosures

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Cities in the U.S. Sun Belt states of California, Florida, Nevada and Arizona dominated first-quarter mortgage foreclosure rankings, with other problem areas likely to emerge as unemployment swells, RealtyTrac said on Wednesday.

A foreclosure sale sign sits in front of a house in Miami Beach, Florida February 27, 2009. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

The 26 metropolitan areas with the highest foreclosure activity rates were in those four U.S. states, where property sales and home prices had soared during the boom years earlier this decade.

Las Vegas, Nevada; Merced, California and Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Florida posted the highest rates of foreclosure in the first three months of this year, RealtyTrac reported on Wednesday.

Irvine, California-based RealtyTrac tracks foreclosure filings, which include notice of default, auction sale or bank repossession. Its quarterly Metropolitan Foreclosure Market Report studied areas with a population of 200,000 or more.

“While we expect many of these metro areas to continue to experience high levels of foreclosure activity throughout 2009, we also expect to see other markets rise up the ranks as unemployment rates surge throughout the country,” James J. Saccacio, chief executive officer of RealtyTrac, said in a statement.

Overbuilding and double-digit home price declines as well as stricter lending standards have yanked the rug out from under the U.S. housing market.

Foreclosures have accelerated the slump in home prices, which Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller indexes put at about 30 percent since a mid-2006 peak.

“Sales activity appears to be increasing in some of these markets as home prices have fallen to levels that are attractive to first-time homebuyers and investors,” Saccacio said.

But that will not be enough to contain the foreclosure tsunami, the company maintains.

Foreclosure activity jumped 46 percent in March from a year earlier, setting a record as programs stunting the fervent pace of failing home loans expired, RealtyTrac said last week.

A temporary freeze on foreclosures by major banks and government-controlled companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac ended before President Barack Obama’s massive housing stimulus, detailed on March 6, could take hold.

One in every 159 U.S. households with mortgages got a foreclosure filing in the first quarter of this year, according to RealtyTrac.

The success of the Obama mortgage bailout may not be seen until autumn of this year, the company said.

Las Vegas posted the highest metro rate of foreclosure activity in the quarter, with 4.48 percent of its housing units receiving a filing. That was one in every 22 households with loans, or more than seven times the national average.

Filings were received in one of every 24 housing units in Merced, California, and in one of every 26 households in Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Florida.

Rounding out the top 10 areas were the California cities of Stockton, Riverside-San Bernardino, Modesto, Bakersfield, and Vallejo-Fairfield, as well as Phoenix, Arizona and Port St. Lucie, Florida.

Thirteen of the top 26 metro foreclosure rates were in California, nine were in Florida, and Nevada and Arizona each added two metro areas.

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