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Lenders: Homes safe for holidays: Foreclosures halted, but effect likely temporary

MANATEE — Several lenders are reinstituting holiday moratoriums on foreclosures, but experts predict the reprieve will be just as short-lived as it was a year ago.

Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, CitiGroup Inc. and OneWest Bank have temporarily suspended foreclosure sales and evictions for up to 30 days, just like they did last year.

“No family should have to face the prospect of being evicted during the holiday season,” said Michael Williams, Fannie’s chief executive.

Fannie and Freddie are suspending, through Jan. 3, evictions from properties the two government-controlled companies have already taken through foreclosure. OneWest said it has halted foreclosure sales and evictions through Jan. 4, while CitiGroup’s foreclosure and eviction moratorium runs through Jan. 17.

Most major lenders took similar actions last winter while waiting for the Obama administration to develop its $75 billion mortgage-relief program. But foreclosures quickly picked up again after those suspensions were lifted, and experts say that will happen again this time.

“It’s just something temporary,” said Pete Minarich, a mortgage banker at Real Estate Mortgage Network in Bradenton. “It’s not going to really matter if they stop for two weeks because, in most cases, it’s just putting off the inevitable.”

The moratoriums also will affect relatively few homeowners, namely those whose loans are owned by those institutions and not by outside investors. For example, CitiGroup has enrolled more than 100,000 borrowers into the Obama mortgage-relief program, but estimates its moratorium will affect just 4,000 homeowners nationally.

“We know that moratoriums are not permanent solutions,” said Sanjiv Das, head of the company’s mortgage division.

Nor will the suspensions help nearly 500 property owners in Manatee County whose lenders or mortgage servicers initiated foreclosure proceedings last month.

They filed 488 foreclosure suits in Manatee County Circuit Court in November, according to a Bradenton Herald review of court records. While that was down from October’s 540 filings and was the lowest monthly total of 2009, it pushed this year’s record total to 5,857 filings with a month remaining.

Those suits contend borrowers collectively owe more than $161.5 million on 539 properties that the Manatee County Property Appraiser’s office says have a combined market value of $97.8 million. That $63.7 million difference equates to an average deficit of nearly $118,400 per property.

The Herald’s analysis of November foreclosure filings also showed:

n More than half of the subject properties, 51.3 percent, had homestead exemptions.

n Greenbrook Village had the most foreclosure filings, with 13, followed by U.S. 301 Commerce Center with 10 (all under single ownership) and the Bayshore Gardens and Whitfield Estates areas, with nine each.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Duane Marsteller, transportation/growth and development reporter, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2630.