Procrastination on Foreclosures, Now ‘Blatant,’ May Backfire

From American Banker:

By Jeff Horwitz and Kate Berry

Ever since the housing collapse began, market seers have warned of a coming wave of foreclosures that would make the already heightened activity look like a trickle.

The dam would break when moratoriums ended, teaser rates expired, modifications failed and banks finally trained the army of specialists needed to process the volume.

But the flood hasn’t happened. The simple reason is that servicers are not initiating or processing foreclosures at the pace they could be.

By postponing the date at which they lock in losses, banks and other investors positioned themselves to benefit from the slow mending of the real estate market. But now industry executives are questioning whether delaying foreclosures — a strategy contrary to the industry adage that “the first loss is the best loss” — is about to backfire. With home prices expected to fall as much as 10% further, the refusal to foreclose quickly on and sell distressed homes at inventory-clearing prices may be contributing to the stall of the overall market seen in July sales data. It also may increase the likelihood of more strategic defaults.

It is becoming harder to blame legal or logistical bottlenecks, foreclosure analysts said.

“All the excuses have been used up. This is blatant,” said Sean O’Toole, CEO of ForeclosureRadar.com, a Discovery Bay, Calif., company that has been documenting the slowdown in Western markets.

Banks have filed fewer notices of default so far this year in California, the nation’s biggest real estate market, than they did 2009 or 2008, according to data gathered by the company. Foreclosure default notices are now at their lowest level since the second quarter of 2007, when the percentage of seriously delinquent loans in the state was one-sixth what it is now.

New data from LPS Applied Analytics in Jacksonville, Fla., suggests that the backlog is no longer worsening nationally — but foreclosures are not at the levels needed to clear existing inventory.

Be sure to check out the full article.