Foreclosure filings in August increased 27 percent compared to the same month a year ago, a significantly slower pace than in previous months, according to data released Thursday.
Nationwide, 303,800 homes received at least one foreclosure-related notice in August, up 12 percent from July, RealtyTrac Inc. said. That means one in every 416 U.S. households received a foreclosure filing last month.
August's increase, however, was smaller than the two prior months. June and July both had year-over year increases in foreclosure filings of 50 percent or more. Still, the total number of foreclosure filings is still the highest since RealtyTrac began issuing its report in January 2005.
Irvine, Calif.-based RealtyTrac monitors default notices, auction sale notices and bank repossessions. More than 90,893 properties were repossessed by lenders nationwide last month — up more than half from 43,141 in August 2007, the company said.
The top three states in foreclosure rates were Nevada, California and Arizona, in that order, RealtyTrac said. Florida, Michigan, Georgia, Ohio, Colorado, Illinois and Indiana rounded out the top 10, though Michigan, Georgia, Ohio and Colorado all reported rate decreases year-over-year.
Weak sales, sinking home values, tighter home loan lending practices and a slowing U.S. economy hamstrung by high fuel prices has left some homeowners with few options to avoid foreclosure. Many can't find buyers or owe more than their home is worth and can't refinance into an affordable loan.
Banks and mortgage investors are also holding a glut of foreclosed properties and are slashing prices to get them off the books.
On Thursday, four Democratic senators urged the mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to freeze foreclosures for 90 days on loans they hold. The troubled companies, seized by the government Sunday, should help struggling borrowers swap their mortgages for more affordable loans and stay in their homes, the lawmakers said.
An estimated 2.8 million U.S. households will face foreclosure, turn over their homes to their lender or sell the properties for less than their mortgage's value by the end of next year, predicts Moody's Economy.com.
James J. Saccacio, chief executive officer of RealtyTrac, said the lower percentage increase last month is due to a big spike in activity in August 2007. Last month, default activity was up 10 percent from a year ago and auction activity up 7 percent year-over-year, Saccacio said.
"The increases in default and auction activity could be slowing down partly as the result of new legislation passed in several states that is designed to give homeowners in distress more time before foreclosure proceedings are initiated," Saccacio said.
The next six months will be critical in terms of the housing crisis, noted Albert Saiz, assistant real estate professor at Wharton School of Business. Consumers and investors will be tracking volatile financial markets, judging the success or failure of this year's housing bill, monitoring the government bailout of Freddie and Fannie, and anticipating the impact of a new president, he said.
On the bright side, if home prices and sales stabilize or improve, the foreclosure situation could get better.
But the slow economy, high unemployment and volatile financial markets present obstacles to improvement in the foreclosure situation, Saiz said.
Together, California, Florida and Arizona accounted for more than half of the nation's volume of foreclosure activity.
Last month, California's foreclosure activity increased more than 40 percent from July and more than 75 percent from August 2007.
The California cities of Stockton, Merced and Modesto were 1-2-3 in top metro foreclosure rates. July's leader, the Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Fla., metro area, dropped to sixth. Las Vegas came in seventh.