Year-over-year foreclosure filings down nationally, up for Pennsylvania

A foreclosed house in Oregon. Year-over-year filings nationally were 11 percent lower. Pennsylvania was one of 20 states with an increase — 24 percent. Don Ryan / Associated Press
A foreclosed house in Oregon. Year-over-year filings nationally were 11 percent lower. Pennsylvania was one of 20 states with an increase — 24 percent. Don Ryan / Associated Press
Posted: July 12, 2012

Foreclosure filings nationally rose 2 percent in the first six months of 2012 from the last half of 2011, but were 11 percent lower than January to June of last year, RealtyTrac reported Thursday.

Pennsylvania was one of 20 states in which year-over-year filings did increase — 24 percent.

Many housing advocates had attributed that increase in filings since last fall to the end of Pennsylvania's venerable Homeowners Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program. More than 27 years in existence, HEMAP was credited with saving up to 47,000 homeowners from foreclosure, but as a result of budget cuts, the program ended July 1, 2011.

The Legislature in June approved reinstatement of the program, using most of the state's $69?million share of a national financial settlement with five major lenders on foreclosure-processing abuses known as "robo-signing."

The money will finance the program over the next five years. Scott Elliott, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, said Wednesday that, while staff at the agency were getting ready to begin accepting applications, "we have no word yet on when the funding will be made available.

“Until that happens," he said, "we can't begin accepting applications."

In the second quarter alone, overall foreclosure activity nationally declined, driven primarily by a drop in bank repossessions. Still, 311,010 properties started the foreclosure process during the quarter, a 9 percent increase from the previous quarter and a 6 percent increase from the second quarter of 2011.

It was the first year-over-year increase in quarterly foreclosure starts since the fourth quarter of 2009, RealtyTrac said.

Pennsylvania's rate rose 25 percent in the second quarter from the same period in 2011. Even with that percentage increase, Pennsylvania's foreclosure rate of one filing for every 448 homes with mortgages put it at 30th of 50 states in the quarter.

New Jersey's foreclosure rate fell more than 9 percent in the first six months from the same period in 2011, but rose 65 percent in the second quarter from April through June 2011.

New Jersey's rate of one filing for every 651 houses with mortgages put it at 38th of the 50 states. The national rate for the quarter was one in every 236 homes.

"Lenders and servicers are slowly but surely catching up with the backlog of delinquent loans that under normal circumstances would have started the foreclosure process last year, and that catching-up is why the average time to complete the foreclosure process started to level off or decrease in some states in the second quarter," said Brandon Moore, RealtyTrac's CEO.

Several years of record foreclosures appears to have changed the nature of mortgage fraud, according to a report issued Wednesday by LexisNexis Risk Solutions.

An FBI report on financial crimes for fiscal 2010-11 said that, "for the first time in recent history, distressed-homeowner fraud has displaced loan-origination fraud" as the problem most reported by lenders.

The number of mortgage-fraud suspicious-activity reports received by the FBI more than doubled between 2007 and 2011, the agency said. In fiscal 2011 alone, fraud investigations resulted in 1,223 indictments and 1,082 convictions.

LexisNexis said that nearly 80 percent of these suspicious activity reports in 2011 involved fraud "most often perpetrated by borrowers in order to qualify for a home."

The incidence of collusion to commit fraud, especially between buyers and sellers in states in which housing prices have fallen by double digits since the bubble burst in 2006, has grown so much that Lexis-Nexis has begun compiling an index to track it.

The index ranked Pennsylvania fifth of the top 10 states for collusion to commit fraud for properties experiencing price declines of 20 percent to 95 percent. The state was fourth for properties with declines of 50 percent to 95 percent.

New Jersey was sixth on the first list and seventh on the second.

"Increased levels of fraud and misrepresentation in the foreclosure, short sale, and real estate-owned [bank-repossession] worlds," said Tom Brown, senior vice president of Financial Services for LexisNexis, "have pushed the issue of collusion to the forefront."

Contact Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472 or aheavens@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @alheavens.

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