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US foreclosure filings climb to record high

NOT EVEN THE PEAK: A total of 803,489 properties received a default or auction notice or were seized in the first quarter of this year, 24 percent more than last year

BLOOMBERG

US foreclosure filings rose to a record in the first quarter as employers cut jobs in the recession and temporary programs to delay action on defaults came to an end, RealtyTrac Inc said.

A total of 803,489 properties received a default or auction notice or were seized, 24 percent more than a year earlier, the Irvine, California-based seller of default data said in a statement yesterday. Filings for last month totaled 341,180, also a record in four years of RealtyTrac data.

“Foreclosures haven’t peaked yet,” David Olson, president of the mortgage research firm Wholesale Access in Columbia, Maryland, said in an interview. “We’re catching up with what’s been delayed, and those foreclosures will have to be cleared.”

A flood of bank-owned properties is hitting the housing market as the US recession deepens. The unemployment rate jumped to 8.5 percent last month, the highest since 1983, as 663,000 jobs were lost, the US Labor Department said.

Home prices fell 19 percent in January from a year earlier, the fastest drop on record, the S&P Case/Shiller Index of 20 US cities showed. The measure has fallen every month on a year-over-year basis since January 2007. Mortgage applications declined last week for the first time in a month, a sign that even with borrowing rates below 5 percent may not be enough to spur a housing recovery.

The average rate on a 30-year loan rose to 4.87 percent last week after four weeks of declines, according to McLean, Virginia-based mortgage buyer Freddie Mac. The US Federal Reserve Bank decided last month to buy as much as US$300 billion in US Treasuries and more than double purchases of housing debt to US$1.45 billion in a bid to reduce the costs of home loans and other borrowing.

US President Barack Obama’s housing-rescue plan is intended to help as many as 9 million homeowners near default refinance into cheaper loans. About 7.6 million mortgage holders don’t qualify because they owe too much more on their mortgages than their homes are worth, real estate valuation service Zillow.com said.

Obama’s plan allows owners to refinance if their mortgages exceed their property value by 5 percent or less.

Falling home prices and rising unemployment will contribute to further increases in defaults as more homeowners find themselves owing more than their houses are worth, mortgage consultant David Lykken said.

“As long as those things happen, delinquencies will grow,” said Lykken, of Mortgage Banking Solutions in Austin, Texas.

A rise in foreclosure sales won’t be enough to “offset the growing number of foreclosures in the pipeline, accelerated by rising unemployment rates,” RealtyTrac chief executive officer James Saccacio said in the statement.

Filings rose 9 percent from the fourth quarter as one in every 159 US households was in some stage of foreclosure.

Nevada had the highest foreclosure rate. One in 27 housing units there received a filing, more than five times the national average. Arizona was second at one in 54 housing units, and California ranked third at one in 58.

Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Georgia, Idaho, Utah and Oregon also ranked among the top 10 states with the highest foreclosure rates.

Five states accounted for 60 percent of total foreclosure filings in the first quarter, led by California with 230,915, RealtyTrac said. That was a 36 percent increase from the same period last year, and the highest quarterly total on record.

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