WASHINGTON — The number of Americans on the verge of losing their homes fell in January but was still up from the same month a year ago. The numbers would have been higher if not for efforts to stall the foreclosure process.
Nationwide, more than 274,000 homes received at least one foreclosure-related notice last month. That was down 10 percent from December, but still 18 percent higher than a year ago, according to RealtyTrac Inc., an Irvine, Calif-based foreclosure listing service.
Contributing to the monthly drop was a decision by government-controlled mortgage finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to suspend foreclosure sales during the winter holidays. Plus, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist brokered a deal in which lenders in that state agreed to a 45-day halt to new foreclosure petitions.
But those efforts may not have much of an impact in the long run.
“If you don’t do anything to get to the core problem, all you’re doing is extending the housing downturn,” said Rick Sharga, RealtyTrac’s vice president for marketing. “It’s only a good idea if there’s a corresponding program that dramatically restructures hundreds of thousands of loans.”
More than 2 million American homeowners faced foreclosure proceedings last year, and that number could soar as high as 10 million in the coming years, according to a report last month by Credit Suisse, depending on the severity of the recession.
The RealtyTrac report said nearly 67,000 properties were repossessed by lenders in January as the worst recession in decades, falling home values and stricter lending standards continue to sap the U.S. real estate market. That was up from more than 45,000 repossessed properties in January 2008, but down from 79,000 in December.
In the RealtyTrac report, Nevada, California, Arizona and Florida had the nation’s top foreclosure rates. In Nevada, one in every 76 homes received a foreclosure, while the number was one every 173 in California. At No. 5, Oregon, formerly a bastion of housing stability, made its first appearance close to the top of the list of foreclosure hot spots.
Rounding out the top 10 were Illinois, Michigan, Georgia, Idaho and Ohio. Among metro areas, Merced, Calif., was first, with one in every 59 housing units receiving a foreclosure filing. It was followed by Las Vegas and the Cape Coral-Fort Myers area in Florida.
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