Home foreclosures drop sharply in N.C. in February

Posted March 12, 2009 6:44 a.m. EDT

— Home foreclosures in North Carolina fell sharply in February, countering a nationwide increase, according to data released Thursday by real estate analysis firm RealtyTrac.

Some, 2,039 properties were involved in one phase of a foreclosure action last month, down 14.5 percent from January and a whopping 49.7 percent from the same month a year ago.

Nationally, the foreclosure rate was up 30 percent from February 2008 as a number of state bans on foreclosure actions expired. Nationwide, nearly 291,000 homes received at least one foreclosure related notice, according to the California-based company.

In North Carolina, 217 owners received a notice of default, another 492 were notified about a foreclosure sale, and 1,330 were reported as having been foreclosed upon and repurchased by a lender.

North Carolina, the country’s 10th largest, ranked 36th in foreclosure activity.

In January, nearly 2,400 properties were involved in foreclosure and North Carolina ranked 33rd.

Under a new North Carolina law, lenders must provide homeowners and the state banking commissioner 45 days' notice before a foreclosure action is filed. The law also allows the banking commissioner to extend any foreclosure-filing notice period by 30 days.

While foreclosures are highly concentrated in the Western states and Florida, the problem is spreading to states like Idaho, Illinois and Oregon as the U.S. economy worsens.

"It doesn't bode well," for the embattled U.S. housing market, said Rick Sharga, vice president for marketing at RealtyTrac, a foreclosure listing firm. "At least for the foreseeable future, it's going to continue to be pretty ugly."

The rise in foreclosure filings came despite temporary halts to foreclosures by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and major banks JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup and Bank of America. Those companies pledged to do so in advance of President Barack Obama's plan to stem the foreclosure crisis, which was launched last week.

Two states that contributing to the increase were Florida and New York, where temporary bans on foreclosures ended.

But other states are moving to enact similar measures. On Wednesday the Michigan House approved legislation that would give homeowners facing foreclosure a 90-day reprieve. The legislation now goes to Michigan's Republican-led Senate, where its future is unclear.

While the number of foreclosures continue to soar nationwide, banks have held off listing properties for sale, Sharga said. There were around 700,000 such properties nationwide at the end of last year, making up a "shadow inventory" of unsold homes that could drag the housing crisis out even longer.

"It's going to take us longer than you might anticipate to burn through he inventory of distressed properties," he said.

The results highlight the challenge ahead for Obama and his economic advisers. The Obama administration is aiming to help up to 9 million borrowers stay in their homes through refinanced mortgages or loans that are modified to lower monthly payments.

Still, the faltering economy, driven down by the collapse of the housing bubble, is causing the housing crisis to spread. Nearly 12 percent of all Americans with a mortgage - a record 5.4 million homeowners - were at least one month late or in foreclosure at the end of last year, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. That's up from 10 percent at the end of the third quarter, and up from 8 percent at the end of 2007.

The RealtyTrac report said more than 74,000 properties were repossessed by lenders in February as the worst recession in decades, falling home values and stricter lending standards continue to sap the U.S. real estate market.

Nevada, Arizona, California and Florida had the nation's top foreclosure rates. In Nevada, one in every 70 homes received a foreclosure filing, while the number was one every 147 in Arizona. Rounding out the top 10 were Idaho, Michigan, Illinois, Georgia, Oregon and Ohio.

Among metro areas, Las Vegas was first, with one in every 60 housing units receiving a foreclosure filing. It was followed by the Cape Coral-Fort Myers area in Florida and five California metropolitan areas: Stockton, Modesto, Merced, Riverside-San Bernardino and Bakersfield.